A high school teacher resigned her post as a history teacher at the Government and Public Administration in Eastside High School prior to the start of the new school year after witnessing the morally reprehensible conduct of some school officials.
Simonetta Jean, a history teacher, started teaching as a substitute teacher in the Paterson Public School District, where she would pick assignments every morning, and spend the day running the class of an absent teacher. After doing this for a number of years, in 2009, Jean, with a background in political science, began teaching social studies at the high school.
The city’s school district is rough with unruly and fractious students, who sometimes give instructors hard time, but this was not the case with Jean, who devoted a good deal of time mentoring students after school; she said, “I run a Paterson high school Girl Scout troop that represents Eastside, Kennedy, Passaic, and other schools.” A teacher uninterested in the welfare of her students is not likely to devote time and effort towards after-school activities. “I was very involved with my students and community service projects in Paterson,” said Jean.
Attendance sheet changes
Before school closed for summer break in 2013, she discovered attendance sheets of other teachers mysteriously changing students from absent to present. It is well-known, at least to those who attended high school in the city, that, during the last two weeks of school, after final exams, school unofficially ends.
However, the ones who avoid showing up completely are those who have spare days from their total allotment – each student has certain number of days he is able to miss without being penalized. Students with heavy absences or expended allotment of days continue to come to school for fear of failing.
“Someone was blatantly changing the attendance of students on the teachers’ attendance sheets,” said Jean. She says that her attendance sheets were being changed without her being informed. Students who were absent were being marked present. She says it was not just happening to her, it was happening to other teachers as well. She said, “I saw the attendance sheet of a teacher who shared my room and noticed that one of her homeroom students who was my Practical Law students was marked present when I knew he had not shown up for the past two days.”
When she sought answers from school officials during staff meetings they hushed her off. Jean notes that when she and other teachers questioned officials they simply told them to ignore the changes. “We were told to let it go,” said Jean.
Karen Johnson, the principal of the school, explained to the teachers that students coming in late were being marked absent, so attendance for late students had to be changed to present. However, some students, who were absent, were being marked as present. “When I questioned her about a student who did not show up but was still marked present, she said it was not the time to talk about it,” said Jean, who raised the point during a staff meeting.
An email was sent to Johnson asking for comments about the situation, but she did not respond. “It’s a legal document,” said Jean. It “puts the teacher in a bad spot if a student was injured off grounds especially at the time they should be in your homeroom.”
Teachers being nodded to pass failing students
Some teachers were inconspicuously pressured into passing certain students. “I know many teachers told me they weren’t necessarily told by someone but felt they had to pass students or get a bad evaluation or questioned about why a student failed,” said Jean. An official would speak to a teacher about a student’s poor grades, and tell him to do your “best to make sure” the student passed. Although the brief comment seems innocent, it is bound to appear menacing when issued by a principal or a vice-principal or a department head.
Not all the teachers were pushed to pass academically poor students; officials selected certain easy to push teachers. “They know who they can push and who they can’t,” said Jean, who says she was never asked to pass anybody. “I had teachers admit to me that they were passing students because they didn’t want to deal with the repercussions.” Among the repercussions included: negative evaluation.
Passing undeserving seniors
Seniors were specifically better off as a result of the pushing and pressuring done by administrators. “I know many teachers were asked to give extra credit work,” said Jean. “If a teacher was unwilling to do so especially for seniors they would put the student in credit recovery in order to graduate them.” Students, who seldom attended classes, who were failing, were called by school officials to spend two weeks after-school prior to graduation to re-earn their lost class credits. By spending two weeks on a computer after school a student was able to gown up for graduation. “Teachers complained about students being allowed to take credit recovery in the last two weeks for classes they barely showed up to or not at all and pass,” said Jean.
Not a good school
The school of Government and Public Administration in Eastside High School is ranked as one of the worst schools in New Jersey. In the 2013 school report card, the school is placed within the 4th percentile in terms of academic achievement, making it worse than 96-percent of schools in State, according to the Department of Education. Graduation rate at the school stands at 75-percent, according to the department. Terry Corallo, the school’s spokesperson, did not respond to an email sent last week, asking for the school’s graduation rates for past few years; phone messages were left at her office without response.
Being morally disgusted at the way the school is run, Jean, who taught at the district for more than seven years, resigned from her position at the school. She said, “I didn’t want to be part of the problem anymore.”
Correction: the article previously mentioned that Jean found her attendance sheets changed, she has since informed this paper that it was not hers but those of her colleagues’ sheets which she noticed were changed.