by Dr. Pelham Mead.
Chapter 3- School Politics
We had three Principals in 30 years. The first principal lasted five years and the second principal lasted seven years, and the last principal 17 years until a heart attack forced him to retire. The first principal was “old school,” meaning he was from the old style of running a building. Originally he was an Assistant Principal at another building. He had transferred from the oldest junior high in the district to this new building in 1960. By the time he became Principal he was already in his late 60’s. He brought with him his buddies from the other Junior High to serve as Department chairman with a relatively new faculty. With few exceptions Cucamonga JHS opened with 90% new teachers hired from NYC or just out of college. The first few years were difficult because the building was still being finished around the students and teachers in the finished classrooms. In 1965 an extension was finished just five years after the building was opened. A pool was supposed to be built in the inner courtyard of the building extension but it was voted down by the community. The population double every year with students transferring from New York City schools to the country where parents believed they could get a good education for their children instead of teacher strikes and gang violence.
By 1969 the first Principal was gone due to gang fights and bad publicity. The school board pushed him out thinking he was too old in his late 60’s to take control of a junior high.
The second Principal was a Physical education teacher previously, and then an assistant principal until he was fired. When he applied for the Cucamongo JHS job, he was working in a shirt factory. The school board wanted a puppet they could control, and he was just the man. This principal was a man in his forties with no leadership ability at all. He simply did not know how to please the Teachers Union and get his own way at the same time. He fought the Teachers Union at every turn and lost. He did not appreciate the power of informal structure at a school and thought that he could control everything by formal rules. He did not have any friends on the faculty and few of the teachers had any respect for him. During his tenure as Principal all hell broke loose with control of the students and a lack of discipline, drug problems, politics, threatened teacher strikes and other board imposed rules. The fact that the Teachers Union almost went out on strike in the early 1970’s showed that there was a big gap between the administration and the teachers. Threatened teacher strikes are bad for business, bad for the parents, bad for the students, and bad for the atmosphere in the school system. Everything begins to break down when rules are applied and benefits in health begin to shrink and the cost of living far exceeds the amount of pay the teachers were getting. All of these problems transferred themselves back to the Principal. Many teachers stood up to the Principal and refused to do what he asked. He tried to fire them but the Teachers Union protected them and he lost all the battles. The Principal also had a poor relationship with the President of the PTA and the PTA lost a lot of members because of his lack of support to PTA sponsored events. To gain the respect of the student body he arranged a Judo and Karate demonstration in which he participated with some of the teachers and students. Basically he made a fool of himself. At the Halloween party he was seen trying to impress some of the new female teachers even though he was married. At the Christmas party for the teachers he got drunk and made a fool of himself calling another teacher names. No one forgot that embarrassing and immature occasion at the Christmas party. After two years he has lost all credibility with the teachers and often had to take attendance at faculty meeting because more and more teachers simply did not come to the meetings anymore. He also tried to use the security guards as his spies around the building which put the security guards in a bad position with the teachers who never trusted them. Eventually with the tensions of no teacher contracts for three years, pending strike threats, no salary increases, the Union reps began to take over the school on an informal basis. They called the shots on whether teachers were going to attend after school sports events or volunteer for extra assignments. It was a “work to rule,” slow down and the word professionalism went into the garbage can. The board said the teachers should volunteer to do more with no pay and they called that professionalism. They insisted on faculty meetings going beyond two hours on a school day after hours, or coming into “back to School night” to volunteer their time to meet with parents.
When teachers work to rule all the extras are thrown out the window. It is amazing how much extra stuff teachers do like paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, or buying a pizza for a class that did well on a test, or taking a student home who had missed the bus, or cleaning up when a mess was made in a classroom, the list goes on and on.
Finally after seven years of total decline the second Principal of Cucamonga JHS retired to Florida never to be seen again.
The third principal came after seven years of decline in the reputation of the school and the deceasing enrollment. He came from a New York City school in Brooklyn where he was a social studies teacher who joined the ranks of administrators as an assistant Principal. Coming to Cucamonga JHS would be the biggest challenge of his life. He was a bald Jewish guy with a great sense of humor. When he first arrived he was shunned by many of the teachers because of the bad experiences they had with the previous Principal. He had his work cut out for him.
Enrollment dropped 50 students a year beginning in 1977 and continued into the 1990’s to an all time low of 440 students total. The faculty dropped from 120 teachers over 30 years to only 48 teachers with a lot of part-timers. Three threatened teacher strikes had occurred over the past 15 years. It was a bad time for education in High Mountain school district.
The first thing the third principal did was make changes formally and informally. Old bad habits and rules were dropped. The sign in procedure became more relaxed than before. Teachers were treated with more respect than before. Th security staff changed and their attitudes change as well as their job functions. They were no longer used as spies for the Principal. The organization of the front office changed and the swing gate was removed and the general appearance of the main office became more inviting. Faculty meetings changed with Teacher Union pre-meetings having less and less to complain about. Some older teachers were pushed out and many new teachers were hired to replace them. A Principal’s cabinet was formed for the first time in the history of the school. It consisted of one person from every department and one security guard and one custodian as well as one parent representative. Their duty was to make new and positive policies for the school and seek out new ways of improving the school learning environment and community image. It worked very well. Teachers and staff felt they had a say in things for the first time in many years. The school applied for the NY State outstanding school award in 1986 and won the recognition in a ceremony at Albany in the spring of 1987. It was a major positive step forward for Cucamonga JHS.
With every Principal comes politics both formal and informal. The Teacher Union has a certain degree of power in representing teachers in conferences with the Principal and demanding changes that the teachers want. Every Principal handles Union reps differently and for each of the three Principals of Cucamonga Junior high the politics differed. With the first “old school” Principal he ignored the union reps as best he could. He seldom kept them informed and tried to fire teachers without proper documentation. The second Principal lost all control of the faculty and the Union reps were basically running the school with informal control. Whatever the Union wanted the teachers Union got. When the Principal wanted teachers to sign in before 9:05 at the beginning of the day the Union said there were legitimate exceptions and signing in at 9:05 exactly could not be required.
To prove the point all the teachers were asked by the Union reps to line up outside the school except those on bus duty and wait until 9:05 and then enter the building and sign in on the attendance sheet. The whole process took 30 minutes and many teachers were late to homeroom so the attendance that day was very inaccurate. The principal gave in on the sign in issue at 9:05 and the Union won.
During the monthly faculty meetings the Union got an hour to meet with the teachers before the Principal could come in and run the meeting. More was done during the Union portion of the meeting than the Principal’s portion of the meeting.
Coaches were always excused from faculty meetings since they were out on the fields coaching at the time of the meetings or in the gyms.
Politics always came into place when things went wrong. Whenever there was a problem the principal would try to create a rule after the fact. When teachers were told they could not close their doors they put a match book in the doorway. When the principal began peeking in the small door window at teachers in their class, the teachers put up artwork of paper to block the window view. One teacher had a real toilet in his classroom and all the windows were painted in psychedelic motifs, peace signs, flowers, stain glass designs, and skulls. No one was ever forced to take down their classroom artwork no matter how weird except on back to school night when the parents came in to hear about the school and their children’s progress. Then the posters were taken down, the toilet hidden in a closet, and the window artwork cover over with paper classwork. It was a big game to the teachers and administrators.
There were very few black teachers in the 1970’s in Cucamonga Junior high, mostly because it was expensive to live in Mountain High community and because there were mostly all Jewish students and very few black students. White administrators were afraid of black teachers and black power, which was the popular theme in the 1970’s so, rather than ask for problems they did not hire black teachers. We had two male black teachers and both were science teachers. One black teacher was from Mississippi and he shuddered in a southern accent. He was also an alcoholic. His students all suffered and did poorly in science especially on departmental tests. The other black teacher turned out to be a militant black person who had fooled the administration into thinking he was a black guy with white values. Needless to say it was impossible to fire them or the NAACP would be at the building in a heartbeat. White administrators were afraid to fire poorly performing black teachers for fear of being called a bigot and getting fired after community outrage ran it’s course.
Poorly performing white teachers had a different standard and could be easily harassed and constantly evaluated in order to create a file of information to support them being fired at the end of the year. One such teacher was a business teacher in his early 60’s whom the principal at the time did not like and thought his teaching was out of style. He sent in the assistant principals on three occasions in just one month to evaluate him, (that was technically illegal by Union standards). The poor man was so stressed that he had a heart attack in the classroom, and died. No administrators were brought to bear for causing his heart attack but the teachers all knew the real story. It was a sad time in Cucamonga JHS history.
Politics were in play when it came to getting tenure or promotions. Being appointed to being a department chairman was all about politics since they were the sub managers that helped the Principal run the school and they had to be loyal to the Principal or the supervision structure fell apart. Department chairman were picked for their loyalty that mean they were always “brown nosing the Principal.” We called it kissing ass. If you didn’t want to kiss ass then you never got promoted. It was a plain fact of the game of teaching and administration.
There were two rulebooks, first the administrator’s rulebook pertaining to other administrators, and what they could get away with; and then there was the teachers’ rulebook, which was completely different. The teachers had more rules formal and informal than the administrators. The administrators could “do not wrong” as was the political thought. The teachers were always wrong. Wrong when a student complained how a teacher was treating them, wrong when a student made up a story about a teacher to get even, and wrong when a teacher was accused of abusing a student. Just being accused of a case of misconduct meant you were guilty before being charged. Teachers had to be on their guard both for students who make up stories, and administrators that make up stories.
When the Assistant Principal in charge of class scheduling was assigning teachers to classes they could give a teacher a “killer schedule with three classes in a row and a late lunch. They could make sure that they did not get the last period of the day off so they could not leave early for coaching for instance. The union did not allow four periods in a row to be taught, however a teacher could sign away his rights and teach four in a row to get out of school earlier than other teachers. Many a new teacher faded a few months into the fall from having a multi-ability classes such as a below level science class first period, an on level science class second period and an Earth Science regents class and lab the third period. Each of these tracts required a separate preparation and a separate lesson plan to be written each day each week. Some new teachers spent the entire weekend each week writing their lesson plans to keep up with the stress of preparing separate level lessons.
Politics and favoritism when hand in hand. Those who “kissed ass” got easy duty assignments, such as hall duty where they sat and worked on their paper work or bus duty before school. The worse assignments were lunch duty where food fights occurred, and physical fights between students were a weekly happening. Teachers attempting to break up fights usually got injured themselves. One teacher walked into the teacher cafeteria after café duty with peaches sliding down his tie after a food fight. It was a sight to see and all of the teachers laughed. If you wanted to be removed from lunch duty you had to work at doing the worse job possible without being cited at the same time. Reading the New York Times was always a technique that pissed off the assistant principal. Sitting down while on duty was another ‘NO, NO.” Eating on duty in the lunchroom or drinking coffee was also not allowed. You just had to come late and leave early to make the assistant principal think you were the teacher from hell in the lunchroom. Usually it took a year to convince them that there was no way they wanted you in the lunchroom because you did everything wrong.
Bus duties were assigned every six weeks before school, and after school to assist the administrators in controlling the students getting on or off the busses and in preventing fights or accidents. Every six weeks a teacher could be assured that they would get bus duty on top of their daily duty period. If you did not show up you got a bad memo in your file. A stack of bad memos could lead to a poor evaluation at the end of the year. This was how the administrators kept teachers in line with the threat of fear and being fired.
Politics often came into play when parents were friends of the Superintendent or high up administrator. One set of parents requested from the Superintendent of the District to allow their daughter to miss the first period of school to attend skating lessons because she was an Olympic hopeful. The Superintendent was also requested to give the girl an automatic Physical Education grade. The Principal was told what to do and he told the Physical Education Department chairperson to tell the teacher assigned to the girl to put down a passing grade even though the girl never showed up for class. This was a violation of the district attendance and grading laws, however the Superintendent demanded that the schoolteachers cooperate. All of the teachers refused to give the girls a grade and left her name with no grade on the grading sheets. The Principal himself had to add the grade since he could not force the teachers who told the Union rep of the violation. Just everyday politics flowing downhill as they always do in education.
Politics came into play depending upon whether the parent who came into school to complain was a community activator, a lawyer, and white at the same time. Poor parents from Hatia got treated differently than parents who were professionals and white. Indian and Chinese parents were also treated poorly unless they were community leaders with some power. What was called smoking pot for one student was called misuse of medicines for another student. When teachers caught a student smoking marijuana or using it or selling it they called in the parents for a conference. When the parents came in they threatened to sue the Principal, the teachers, and the district. When Nurses turned in a student for drinking they would not sign a statement to that effect because they were afraid of being sued. Many drug abuses of children of wealthy parents were covered up by administrators driving the student home and not making a federal case out of the drug abuse. It was an unequal system from the get go.
Politics could make or break a school and in the case of Cucamongo Junior high and with poor management the reputation of the school went rapidly down hill when students who were no allowed to publish stories in the school went to the local newspaper outside the school and got their uninformed stories published, and community people reading these stories actually believed them. It was a crime that many good teachers were afraid to work at Cucamonga Junior high because of its poor reputation in the community.
Despite the attempts by the administration to control the politics at Cucamonga JHS their attempts never worked. The teachers were the soldiers in the trenches and the administration was the captains in the warm headquarters. Teaching can be a very isolated career once those doors are closed the teacher is in a world of their own. Administrators used to be teachers but for some reason they forgot what it is like teaching in a classroom.