New York City principal wants 'turnaround' or nothing at all... Demands Chicago-style power for Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn

A New York City public school principal with a long history of self-promotion had declared that he would rather not take extra funding for his school than miss the chance to do a "turnaround" and fire lots of teachers. Thanks to members of ICE, the following article has come to Substance from Brooklyn.

The confrontation between a principal who once served as chief of the New York City school system's "Office of New Schools" and the city's school board (and the United Federation of Teachers) has been developing around the implementation of the Race To The Top models for school change. Bernard Gasaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, is demanding the right to do "turnaround" and get rid of his teachers (while ignoring that the models for turnaround from Chicago also involved getting rid of principals). The union and New York City school district are proposing a different approach. So Gasaway has taken his claims to the media.

Below are two article (both combined into one from a local newspaper in Brooklyn). The first is the report on Gasaway's standoff. It contains material from his website.


Gassaway Rejects Restart Model And Possibly Millions in Funding for BGHS

BGHS Principal Bernard Gassaway says current funding model will do little to improve his school

By C. Zawadi Morris May 31, 2011, BED STY PATCH NEWSPAPER (Brooklyn New York)

It appears that the millions of dollars earmarked to save Boys and Girls High School may be in jeopardy.

One reason is due to stalled negotiations between the teacher’s union and the City around how to best implement teacher evaluations, which will greatly impact the way teachers are hired and fired. But until an agreement is reached between the two parties, the State will hold the money.

The second reason has to do with the school’s principal Bernard Gassaway. In a letter he released to Bed-Stuy Patch this morning, Gassaway presented a resounding objection to Restart — the school reform model under which the money would be awarded – insisting that most of the $3.5 — $6 million grant that may come with Restart would be restricted primarily to professional development.

Gassaway has long stated a preference for the Turnaround (Transformation) Model as the most viable approach for student improvement at Boys and Girls, as it would grant him authority to replace teachers he deems ineffective.

"Money alone is not the answer," said Gassaway. "I have espoused that of all the models being offered, Turnaround would give us the best chance to speed-up the reform of Boys and Girls High School. While I defend all efforts to keep Boys and Girls High School open forever, I do not defend the right of incompetent staff to remain with children indefinitely.”

Boys & Girls High School has ranked as one of New York State’s lowest performing schools for the last two years, and less than half of its students graduated in 2010. In December, the city narrowly spared Boys & Girls from complete closure.

The Restart Model is one of four improvement plans outlined by the Obama administration in its education initiative designed to improve struggling schools, better known as Race To The Top.

The Department of Education’s reaction to Gassaway’s stance squarely addressed the stalled negotiations surrounding teacher negotiations, which have imperiled the funds’ allocation, but also made clear of DOE’s intention to implement the Restart model.

“We have been in near constant consultation with the State Education Department about our intentions to use Restart, and our plan is consistent with the law, so it’s unfortunate that the State would change the ground rules at this late juncture,” Deputy Chancellor at the New York City Department of Education Marc Sternberg said.

“We agree with the State about the need for a rigorous and meaningful teacher evaluation system, but thus far we have not been able to reach an agreement with the teacher’s union, and that means we are likely to miss out on more than $125 million in federal funds to improve these schools.”

Still, while negotiations remain on the table regarding teacher evaluations, Gassaway has taken a hard stance on the conditions of the funding:

“I know in my heart and soul that the recent decision of the DOE to move forward with the Restart model is not the best option for Boys and Girls High School,” Gassaway said. “In the end, any model that we adopt must allow school leadership to aggressively address staff incompetence.” Tom Dunn, director of communications at New York State Education Department, said the department had no comment in regards to Principal Gassaway’s position.


From his Website, it’s clear that Gasaway is a relentless self-promoter, who has also promoted home schooling and “New Schools” for New York City.

Bernard Gassaway Cares About Helping Today's Youth

Bernard Gassaway is the son of Annie Gassaway. He was born in Macon, Georgia in 1960.

Bernard attended New York City public schools. From high school, he attended LeMoyne College, a
 Catholic school in Syracuse, New York. He was elected President of the Minority Cultural Society in
his junior year. He went on to graduate from LeMoyne with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, in
 1982. Two years later, he earned his first Master’s degree from the State University of New York at 
Albany, in public administration.

Bernard worked for two years at the New York City Department of Transportation. In 1986, shortly 
after his mother passed away, he resigned from the department of transportation to pursue what he
called, “meaningful work,” and began his teaching career at Public School 40Q, in Jamaica, New

Two years later, he transferred to Boys and Girls High School where he taught English and
computer literacy. After several years as a high school teacher, and a brief attempt to start a small
 computer consulting business, he returned to teach at Intermediate School 59Q, in Springfield
Gardens, New York. While teaching at 59Q, he completed his second Master’s degree in Education
Administration and Supervision at Baruch College. Shortly after, he became an assistant principal at 
Junior High School 192Q, in St. Albans, New York. Six months later, he transferred to become the
assistant principal of pupil personnel services at Far Rockaway High School, in 1994.

In April 1997, Bernard was assigned and later appointed the first African-American principal at
Beach Channel High School. After his first year at Beach Channel, he was the recipient of the New
York State Title I Distinguished Educator Award. In 2001, the Queens Borough President’s African-
American Advisory Council selected him as Queens Educator of the Year. He also received an
award for Educator of the Year from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., in that same year.

After five years as principal, Bernard resigned to become the Director of New School Initiative for the
New York City Board of Education Alternative Schools Superintendency. In July, 2003, he became
Senior Superintendent for Alternative Schools and Programs. He was also selected as a Revson
Fellow at Columbia University.

In June 2005, after 18 years with the New City school system, Bernard resigned to “continue to fight 
the good fight for children.” He is currently an author, child advocate, doctoral student and educator.

Bernard’s most important roles are father and husband.


June 8, 2011 at 2:38 AM

By: Sean Ahern

New York City principal wants 'turnaround' or nothing at all... Demands Chicago-style power for Boys

A few points of information on the situation in NYC regarding "turnaround" which Chicago readers may not be aware of:

The current UFT contract retains bumping rights for senior members in title in the event of layoffs. In other words, tenured teachers in NYC who have no permanent assignments may not be laid off simply because they lack a permanent assignment. UFT members can look for a permanent assignment or remain in the "Absent Teacher Reserve". Layoffs under the current UFT contract are based on seniority in title city wide. Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that the CTU contract offers no such safety net. "Turnaround" in Chicago has led to layoffs of teachers who remain without a permanent assignment for more than a year regardless of the fact that they may have more seniority than another teacher with a permanent assignment. Suffice it to say that the CTU experience with "turnaround" is not the UFT's at least for the time being.

In NYC the "turnaround " model has not to my knowledge been used by the DOE. "Turnaround" does not give the DOE space to 1)"co-locate" a charter school, 2)break up comprehensive High Schools in the Black and Latino communities (which Boys and Girls HS is one of the few remaining examples of) or 3)layoff higher paid senior teachers.

Consider the "turnaround" scenario in NYC under the present terms of the UFT contract. Up to half of the staff may be transferred or reassigned including the Principal, provided that the Principal has served in that capacity at that school for more than 5 years.

In the case of Boys and Girls HS, Gassaway has served three years so he would not be removed under the "turnaround" formula and he would amass considerable powers to shape the direction and staff under "turnaround." In most cases this is a formula to remove experienced Principals in favor of the corporate Principal Academy clones, but Gassaway is not a product of the Jack Welch/Broad foundation clique.

Why is the Principal at Boys and Girl's HS rejecting the "restart" model which was presented to him by the DOE?

I was told by a reliable source that Bernard Gassaway was given less than a day's notice to accept the "Restart" model after it was first presented to him by the DOE. Apparently he balked and took door number three. "Restart" had little to offer in his opinion apart from some professional development money yet simply saying none of the above risked closing. He preferred "Turnaround" and he had the temerity to say so in public. Did he upset some deal underway between Walcott and the UFT?

I met Gassaway and heard him speak after he had resigned from the DOE a few years back in what seemed to be frustration with the Bloomberg/Klein regime.

Gassaway came back to work for the DOE after the long time Principal of Boys and Girls HS, Mickens, died unexpectedly. The school seemed headed for the skids under Micken's sucessor. Gassaway's return to the DOE as Principal of B&G was welcomed and supported by leaders in the Bedford Stuyvesant community. Boys and Girls HS appears to have made progress under his tenure and he continues to enjoy a considerable measure of community support.

Gassaway's outspokeness on "turnaround", as troubling as it may be to teachers at Boys and Girl HS (admitably a speculation on my part since I am not in contact with teachers there), may have more to do with saving Boys and Girls HS from DOE closing and slice and dice than it does with establishing his own dictatorship over the staff.

Looking back on the planned destruction of NYC's large comprehensive High Schools over the past 10 years I think in hindsight mayoral dictatorship did more damage to public education, students and teacher unionism with the Gates small school slice and dice, privatization model than would have ensued with a "turnaround' model provided staff retained the current safety net.

I think the involuntary reassignment of staff members in this context is less damaging to both the staff member, the students, the community and teacher unionism in a school than school closings, slice and dice and charter co -location.

I say this relatively speaking, not as an endorsement of 'turnaround' in NYC and certainly not in Chicago given the absence of a safety net, but in the context of the UFT contract, in hindsight we would still have functional comprehensive public high schools, still struggling no doubt under increasing inequality and poverty, but intact nonetheless after the privatizers bubble burst and the small school benefactors cut the cash flow.

In the current context Walcott cannot dismiss Gassaway or force him to merely accede to the latest directive from Tweed.

Any effort by the DOE to close Boys and Girls HS or remove its Principal at this time would lead to a widespread unified response from the Black community in Brooklyn that would spread. Any effort by the UFT to pressure Gassaway to conform to Walcott's directive on "restart" objectively sets the UFT on an old self defeating path, that of siding with the school bureaucracy against the Black community.

The UFT rank and file need the parents and community to defend learning and working conditions. The parents and working class communities need public school staff to serve the people.

I believe that it is in the immediate self interest of UFT members to support the continued success of Boys and Girls HS under its current leadership. Not all differences merit being fanned into a conflagration. Some need to be put out before they spread. I don't know the views of the staff. I don't know why Gassaway feels he needs the power to reassign up to half of his staff. But this much is known: 1) Gassaway has a base of support in the Bed Stuy community and a plan for the school. 2)the Bloomberg/Walcott dictatorship is faltering and will soon pass from the scene. What will take its place is being shaped in part by our actions.

How staff, administrators, students, parents, and communities and unions of the poor and working class can resolve differences in practical terms, promote fairness, tolerance and equality, raise awareness to our mutual obligations,rights, and responsibilites. No magic bullet. Just folks with common interests working things out refusing to fall prey to the usual divide and control.


Sean Ahern

NYC parent and educator.

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