Mel Kalebek, a physics teacher at Panther Academy, said during the Wednesday evening’s school board meeting, in front of high ranking school officials, that he has had enough. “It was in Paterson that as a physics teacher, I wanted to make a difference, but sadly, I can no longer go on,” said Kalebek, a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School.
The teacher landed a job in the city a decade ago to see whether he can make a difference in the lives of urban students. “About Ten years ago I decided to make the conscious choice to turn down five different job offers just so I could serve Paterson and its students,” said Kalebek to the expressionless board members and district administrators.
This was not the first time Kalebek attended the school board meeting; he previously addressed the school board highlighting problems at his downtown school that required attention. “It has stopped taking care of the simplest and most basic things,” said Kalebek of the district.
In May 2008, Kalebek was recognized as an effective teacher at his school, and was awarded the teacher of the year award. Kalebek, has said repeatedly, that he was the first to institute an advanced placement physics program at his school in 2009.
In September of this year, Kalebek reiterated his position that teachers in the district were not given their due respect and award for the job being done at each schools. Besides the resources to teach, educators were not provided raises for the past four years – the district has been operating without providing teachers a contract.
Lack of financial reward appears to be another reason for Kalebek’s resignation. In September of this year, he stated that he has made immense progress in improving the grades of his students, but received very little in monetary reward. “For my slight improvement my increment was withheld and now I received less money in my paycheck,” said Kalebek. “So if we are very strict about using data as indicators as to improving scores, what about our administrators using data to improve our rewards?”
Due to the lack of rewards at the district he has lost his home and has been forced to file bankruptcy. He did not just blame the school district for his woes, the state also received a piece of it, because the local school board has almost no power to grant contracts to teachers or award them bonuses for being exceptional at their jobs.
After he turned in his resignation many board members hoped he would reconsider his resignation. “I’m disturbed we’ll be losing someone of quality,” said Errol Kerr, a school board member. “We need every bit of your energy in this district.” Corey Teague, a school board member, wished Kalebek would reconsider and stay with the district. “It’s very disheartening to see an educator that’s very passionate about what he does walk away from that,” said Teague. “I hope you reconsider.”
Two months ago Kalebek issued an ultimatum to the district saying he would leave if a contract is not in place by the end of this year. “If we are not awarded a contract this year it will be my last year teaching in the Paterson Public School System,” said Kalebek. It may be, that the teacher is sticking to his word, and departing a month early.