“We stand behind Namita Dwarka’s leadership, and we believe she is the right person to be the proposed new leader of the proposed new school,” said Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez, to shouts and boos from students in the crowded auditorium. “In her time here at W.C. Bryant she has shown commitment and a strong will to improve student achievement and learning.”
One way that Dwarka has shown that commitment, according to the six Bryant teachers I spoke to in the last month, is by offering more bracing criticism than most teachers have gotten in the past.
“I was always satisfactory,” one teacher who asked not to be named told me by phone. “This is the principal’s first year and she never, ever observed me, not even a first time.”
“The environment in the school is not good,” she continued. “Many people complain. I get depressed, I cry. I personally believe that I work very hard during the whole year and every day, every class I try to do my best.”
The half dozen teachers said they learned in recent weeks, via letters from assistant principals who conducted classroom observations, that they would likely receive “unsatisfactory” ratings this spring. The U-rating is the first step in a contractual process that could lead to job termination. Last year, 2,118 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings citywide.
The news came as a shock to several of the teachers who testified last night — but none of them mentioned the U-rating spree they fear was underway in their public comments.
A handful of teachers did testify that they have brought a strong work ethic to the school but were not given enough time to meet the administration’s rising expectations. In private, several told me that they thought the new principal was laying the groundwork to reopen this fall with fewer veteran teachers.
Cracking down on subpar instruction is a typical first step for new principals, and one teacher who asked to remain anonymous said Dwarka was working to help teachers improve by adding professional development sessions and more classroom observations.
But the teacher also said Dwarka’s leadership had caused a rift in the teaching staff, and rumors were swirling that many teachers would receive unsatisfactory job ratings in June, which could cost them their positions at Bryant.
The rumors have been exacerbated by the city’s approach to rehiring in turnaround schools, which will be conducted according to a process outlined in the city’s contract with the teachers union. The process, known as 18-D, requires that at least half of applicants to the new school from the old school must be hired according to seniority — provided that they are qualified. The hiring committees won’t be formed and the qualifications can’t be set until after the turnaround plans have been approved. But union officials have said in the past that the committees could reasonably decide to exclude from consideration teachers who have recently received U-ratings.