This letter is being sent on behalf of the staff and faculty of Hudson High School of Learning Technologies to formally state our complaints and struggles this past school year, as well as the resolution that we seek.
On Friday, June 26, Eric Maillet, UFT Chapter Leader, sent an email to Superintendent Orlen detailing the issues that have been ongoing at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. As of yet, there has been no response. It has since come to light that there were even more legal issues, some of which have even negatively affected students who should have graduated this year. This email includes the original message, revised to also catalog the numerous legal issues that have been brought to light.
We are writing to you because we are greatly concerned with what has been happening this past year at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. From the start of the school year, many staff reported that Assistant Principal Caterina Lafergola interacted with them in a way that put them on the defensive and left them feeling attacked both personally and professionally. Despite telling teachers that “a lot of people think I’m doing a good job,” she failed to win the trust and confidence of the staff. Teachers, who previously had received favorable feedback and observations both at Hudson and at other schools, were suddenly being given observations full of “Developing” and “Ineffective” after years of positive, productive observations. One teacher reported “I received an evaluation on November 20, 2019 that had five ineffective ratings. I had never received an ineffective rating at Hudson High School (in Texas I was a nominee for Teacher of the Year 2012 – I have always had great observations!) I was shocked to say the least.” Another teacher reported that “When [Principal] Mr. Wilson entered the room [for the post-conference], he did not look at the work that the students had produced, nor did he look at the discussion form that I had been emailed and asked to prepare for this debrief. He told me that the students needed more questioning in class and that they should be using more question frames such as ‘I agree / disagree because . . . ‘” despite the fact that these elements were not a fit for this particular Spanish lesson. Even the winner of the Big Apple Teaching Award for the 2019-2020 school year received negative observations containing “Developing” ratings, in clear contradiction to what the city and NYCDOE officials see and believe.
Teachers also received little to no clear feedback on how to improve on these “deficits” that suddenly appeared. Instead, post-conference meetings were used to point out small issues in the lesson that were later used as ammunition for negative ratings that seemingly left out the better parts of the lessons that would lend themselves to higher ratings all around. Principal Wilson was informed of the fact that post-observation meetings with AP Lafergola often lacked any mention of glows or grows and instead picked apart lessons and criticized teacher practice. The problem continued. In addition, some teachers themselves reported that they received favorable observations and few classroom visits because they were “favorites” of AP Lafergola.
In individual and group meetings, teachers reported feeling that Principal Wilson chose to unquestioningly support AP Lafergola and often spoke to people in a way that led to them feeling disrespected. This frequently led to teachers leaving his office emotionally distraught and sometimes even in tears. When concerns over treatment of teachers were brought to him in meetings, some of which even included UFT District Rep Alice O’Neil, Principal Wilson dismissed them. In a meeting on February 12, 2020, between a concerned teacher, UFT Rep. Alice O’Neil, Chapter Leader Eric Maillet, and Principal Wilson the teacher reported feeling “bullied, intimidated and manipulated” by AP Lafergola and that “you [Principal Wilson] were in that first meeting and you didn’t say anything to prevent the demeanor… I wasn’t resisting feedback, I was resisting being bullied… I felt attacked [by AP Lafergola]… You let it happen and you were a bystander in it.” Principal Wilson replied that “If I were in a court of law and I was on record… I did not perceive that meeting as being any sort of bullying or harassment. I would go on record for that right now, tomorrow, yesterday.” The teacher left the meeting upset and Alice and I had to further explain to the principal that he shouldn’t try to negate or brush aside someone’s feelings or perceptions, especially concerning bullying. Upon questioning whether he would dismiss a student in such a way who came to him with bullying concerns, he replied “I’ll keep my opinions to myself… Moving forward I won’t say anything like that.” At Alice’s repeated request, he agreed to apologize to the teacher but never did. In fact, the targeting and retaliatory behavior that had already begun continued, ending in this teacher’s discontinuance.
On Friday, June 27, 2020, Principal Wilson held virtual discontinuance meetings with three teachers. All three teachers reported that they had not received actionable feedback on observations, the post observation meetings generally consisted of picking apart the lesson rather than guiding feedback, and they reported that in the post-conference meetings Principal Wilson was in they felt belittled and demeaned by his words and actions. In Instructional Leadership Team meetings, grade team leaders repeatedly reported feeling unheard and pitted against each other. When members of their team received poor observations for lack of “co-planning evidence” and “unaligned” lessons, administration refused to offer exemplar examples; instead, administration ran PD on October 21 and 28, 2019 with unaligned lesson plans. Moreover, administration never produced exemplar lesson plans or clarity of what co-planning could look like to meet their desired outcome. During remote learning when the DOE announced NX-grading, administration dismissed grade team leader concerns and UFT intervention by the chapter leader and district rep over putting NXs for marking period grades (as opposed to term-grades). It was only after a meeting with Jennifer Stone, representing DOE academic policy, on May 18th 2020, that it was conceded NXs were not for marking period grades, but term grades. This hurt our students’ progress. Concerns over NX grades were brought up on May 4th via email, May 12th in staff meeting, May 18th in staff meeting where Jennifer Stone clarified, and the issue had to again be brought up on June 8 via email. In addition, the teachers who had been excessed reported that Principal Wilson simply sent them an email, forgoing any personal or collegial conversation. Teachers reported feeling disrespected and devalued by this. These are just some of the examples in a pattern of disrespect. He has made teachers feel, through his actions this year, that he simply does not care about the staff or students and is unwilling or unable to work collaboratively with the school community as a whole.
Furthermore, the teachers who were discontinued all filed APPR grievances to contest observations that they received. In addition, tenured teachers who filed grievances and took other union actions or even just spoke up against some of the egregious issues occurring also began receiving negative observations. This shows clear retaliation against individuals for taking union action, which violates the Taylor Law and the National Labor Relations Act.
The pervasive school-wide issues were evident January 30, 2020, at the time of the Principal’s C30 hiring conference. Superintendent Orlen was met by numerous students and teachers and was presented with letters from students, parents, and teachers expressing concern over the appointment of Principal Wilson. Despite violating the contract and not allowing the appropriate individuals into the C30 meeting, those that Superintendent Orlen did allow into the C30 brought up these concerns and more. Superintendent Orlen stated during the C30 meeting that she was “very aware” of the issues, though she still chose to confirm Mr. Wilson as principal.
Principal Wilson has allowed AP Lafergola far too much freedom to do a poor job (and even encouraged it), leading to compliance issues in SpEd, the loss of a para who is an important part of the school community and someone that we needed to make sure that a student received the services to which he is legally entitled, and students not receiving science instruction or other classes they needed because “it doesn’t fit” in the schedule that AP Lafergola designed. All of these issues were brought up to Principal Wilson and were ignored, resulting in the students being hurt. If we are all supposed to be here to help the students, then why is this being allowed to happen under your supervision?
The special education program was met by an overall disregard during the 2019-2020 academic year. As the previous special education coordinator and IEP intervention teacher resigned during the previous year, AP Lafergola, who is not certified in special education, was assigned to both of these positions for the 2019-2020 academic year. Throughout the year, there were compliance issues that were brought up to the Hudson Administration many times and were generally ignored. A few examples include but are not limited to: 1) Students that were legally mandated to receive special education services were placed in the wrong classes which endangered many students’ ability to graduate on time. When Semester 1 legal compliance issues were brought to Principal Wilson’s attention by the UFT chapter leader during meetings, including during the Consultative Committee meeting on 11/21/19, he responded “I don’t want to totally change student schedules in the middle of the semester. I’m not making any changes until Semester 2.” It happened all over again when students were rescheduled during Semester 2; 2) when it was brought to Admin’s attention that students were not receiving their SETSS classes, the class was then scheduled during the students’ lunch period. These students were asked to sign a waiver to lose their lunch; 3) During the first half of the year, many of the SETSS classes were taught by a general education teacher. The 10th grade SETSS class was taught by a general education teacher for the entire year, even after it was brought to admin’s attention and despite the fact that SETSS classes must be taught by a licensed SpEd teacher; 4) Admin pushed to have SETSS and ICT services, paraprofessionals, and testing accommodations removed or changed based on those classes not fitting into the schedule, despite teachers contesting these services were beneficial to individual students.
These examples provide clear evidence that the special education program at Hudson deserves more attention and needs a coordinator and IEP intervention teacher with sufficient knowledge of SpEd programming. Student needs cannot be ignored in order to make scheduling easier. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act, schedules should in fact be catered to meet the students’ individual needs. Students with IEPs at Hudson deserve an equitable education, which was inconsistent at best during the 2019-2020 academic year.
An email was sent on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by the former head of the SpEd department to Hudson admin, Superintendent Orlen and the UFT. She was a fierce advocate for not only students with IEPs but all students. She compiled a list of negative experiences occurring early on in the year. These included the removal of the student food pantry and washer and dryer, scheduling issues that left ICT classes without a SpEd teacher while she had not even been assigned a full schedule by AP Lafergola, and she even put together a comprehensive list of specific compliance issues for every student who is entitled to receive SpEd services. She also wrote about two conversations that she witnessed between an AP Lafergola and other individuals. In the first instance, she witnessed AP Lafergola verbally abusing a student by calling them “obnoxious” because they wished to change their schedule to better suit their needs. In the other instance she witnessed AP Lafergola telling a teacher that “you were hired by mistake and are actually not needed.” The teacher resigned in early October, citing this conversation as one of the big reasons during a conversation with the UFT chapter leader.
As we previously stated, we are extremely troubled by the fact that many of these very real concerns were addressed earlier in the year with admin at Hudson HSLT and with Superintendent Orlen and, by all appearances, seem to have been ignored. These include demoralization of staff, retaliation against those who were within their legal rights to seek union aid, eventually resulting in their discontinuance, and knowingly denying students with IEPs of their legal rights while refusing to correct the issues. The issues did not, in fact, improve. They only got worse.
We, the staff and faculty of Hudson High School of Learning Technologies, are seeking the removal of Principal Wilson and Assistant Principal Lafergola and a reversal of the discontinuances that took place this year.
Thank you for your time and we look forward to a response.
Members of the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies Chapter of the UFT