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While Moffett waits, her students drift

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 3, 2011 03:20 AM

While exiled English teacher Hope Moffett continues to languish in “teacher jail,” her 106 11th grade students at Audenried High School are preparing for their third – and in some cases, fourth – substitute teacher in the past eight days.

With the all-important state PSSA exam – the first for the recently re-opened Audenried – just two weeks away, some students and parents say that teaching and learning in the school’s English III classes has largely ground to a halt.

“The [substitute] teacher gives out papers, but no one really does them. The kids are just talking in groups,” said 11th grader Sydney Jackson.

“Ms. Moffett is amazing, the best teacher I ever had. [But] now, I’m just doing work so I won’t fail, not to have fun or actually learn.”

On Wednesday, Moffett finally had her “investigative conference” with District officials, formally discussing for the first time since her removal from the classroom on February 17 the charges that she “endangered the safety and welfare of children” and then violated a gag order not to speak about what happened to her.

As is typical, there was no immediate outcome from the conference. District officials must now determine if they wish to proceed with disciplinary action against Moffett, who has been an outspoken opponent of plans to convert the school to a charter run by Universal Companies. She acknowledged giving tokens to students so they could participate in a walkout from class and protest in front of the District’s headquarters on the morning of February 15.  A follow-up hearing will be scheduled soon.

But Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan expressed outrage that Moffett has not yet been returned to her classroom, which he described as one of several departures from normal procedure that the District is following in the case.

“There is nothing that prevents [the District] from having these conferences while she is still teaching her students,” said Jordan.

In addition, he said, Moffett and a second Audenried teacher were given blanket gag orders despite not being told why they were removed from the school.  And the disciplinary action against them was not initiated by Audenried’s principal, but by Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Linda Cliatt-Wayman.

“It’s a concern because it’s unusual,” said Jordan. 

In a statement, District officials said they could not comment on personnel matters due to privacy issues, but added that “a standard employee protocol is in place to address discipline issues related to personnel.”

The District statement also said that “in a teacher’s absence the District provides a consistent professional educator as a replacement.”

Valerie Smith-Webb, the mother of an 11th grader in one of Moffett’s classes and a leader of two different Audenried parent organizations, disputed that notion.

“My daughter tells me all they are doing in class is chitchatting,” said Smith-Webb. “It’s unfair to the students because they’re not learning what they need to learn.”

Smith-Webb is not opposed to the District’s plans to turn Audenried over to Universal for conversion to a charter, and she has reservations about what she perceives as Moffett’s attempts to influence students during recent weeks.

“I didn’t appreciate how [Moffett] handled the whole Universal thing. She kind of gave them her side, and they took that and made it their own,” said Smith-Webb.

But even she thinks the District is unnecessarily hurting students by removing Moffett from the classroom and being “disrespectful” to parents by not keeping them informed about what’s happening with their children’s teacher.

“The kids really like her, and I thought Ms. Moffett was really good in terms of teaching the curriculum. [Now,] they’re not being prepared for testing at all,” said Smith-Webb.

If she were with her students, said Moffett, she would be dividing her time between teaching slave narratives as a part of a curriculum unit on the Civil War and doing mandated test prep for the PSSA.

Students would be getting homework every day and completing weekly “text-based, standards-aligned quizzes” – neither of which has happened since her ouster.

“I find the worst part of this situation is that I am not in that classroom. I find that very trying,” said Moffett. “But this situation can be an example to them that they have the power to advocate for themselves and they can effect change. I think that is the most important lesson they could learn, and I think that’s important enough to risk my job for.”

Sydney Jackson’s mother says that Moffett’s unusual commitment has made a difference in her daughter and should be rewarded, not punished.

“It’s hard to find good teachers, and she puts her heart and soul into the kids,” said R.J. Jackson.

“[Moffett] took it upon herself to put herself out there and risk her job because she believes in our kids and she believes in that school. Who does that?”

Moffett plans to discuss her situation during a live chat today at noon on philly.com.

Comments (32)

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 3:50 am

This is one of many examples of Wayman overstepping her role. Wayman has usurped the power of the Audenreid principal. Meanwhile, Wayman has no concern for the students at Audenreid - otherwise, she would let Ms. Moffett return to her students. But, in the SDP, under Ackerman and Wayman, there is no logic to their decisions. It is pure retribution for someone who dared to say "why" to their machine.

Best to the students of Audenreid - despite the SDP "adults" who don't give a hoot.

Submitted by ACourt (not verified) on March 5, 2011 12:39 am

I think Ackerman wants them to fail and that is why she is keeping Ms. Moffett out of the classroom. She wants them to fail to create a self-fulfillment of her own prophecy that Audenreid will amount to nothing. Then she will have the 'data' she is lacking now. The district doesn't care about the kids, they want them to fail. Ms. Moffett should be allowed back to teach!

Submitted by Teacher in the Trenches (not verified) on March 3, 2011 4:14 am

If the students and their scores really mattered, other things could have been done - other than removing her from the classroom.
A long term sub could have been found that would have stayed in place until testing is done.
One thing that should be kept in mind is that if this school makes AYP, the plans for them look ridiculous. Transforming schools tha make AYP does not make our leadership look good. Remember that schools are only supposed to be in the transformation process because of academic problems.

Submitted by abused teach (not verified) on March 3, 2011 8:10 am

The reason she is still there is they hope she gets frustrated enough to quit. They can't formally charge her because legally she has done nothing wrong. This has been the COMMON PRACTICE of the Phila. School Dist. for years. Jerry Jordan is worthless and could care less. His only comments are for personal self gain. From one who sat for almost a year & never heard from JJ. Some of my classes went through a sub a day.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on March 3, 2011 8:43 am

Make no mistake:
this is a carefully chosen attack to teach a lesson of who has the power to us all. It is not accidental that this is an untenured teacher, an apparently passive principal, an adversarial administrator, a timid union and a community accustomed to apartheid treatment. Like other fascist groups, the SRC's permissive oversight of the administration of Arlene the Pirate Queen uses fear and secrecy to maintain control.

And it seems to be working.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:47 am

Just curious...
Is the other teacher in the same boat tenured?
We never hear anything about that person, and that is their choice, I was just wondering.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on March 3, 2011 12:49 pm

Don't know this person's status.
Hope, in speaking out after district displeasure was clear, not only endangered her job because of the ease of dismissal of the untenured, but the district then leveled charges (remember, they were not initially revealed) that are serious enough to remove her certification to teach.
You probably know the district culture that tries to put little in writing, and nothing into a public forum.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 6:25 pm

The charges, while scary, would probably not really risk her certification. If you go through the PDE disciplinary website, most of the revocations for "endangering students" are for rather serious, usually criminal activity. I suppose I could be wrong, but I think that the state would not be nearly as concerned about these tokens as the SDP now seems to be.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on March 4, 2011 8:18 am

I HOPE you are right. I'm apprehensive because the SRC is the state. It's more than a bit like being judge & jury at once.

For the charge, while the specifics are pretty graphic on the state site, the general charge, the only one revealed in media articles for this case, is of the highest seriousness; child endangerment. If the district is as tone deaf as they generally seem, they may even go for criminal charges, if only to bolster their claims that this person is unfit for the classroom.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:02 am

Abused teacher is absolutely correct. While we like to yell and moan that the union doesn't support us when we are attacked by administration, the fact of the matter is that these administrators can't do anything to us except making us so miserable, we will quit or transfer. That is how they operate. They have no other recourse because our contract does protect us from being removed. I have tons of documentation on this. I had an administrator do this to me and that person got so frustrated that I wouldn't quit or transfer, that they ended up getting fired because she crossed the line trying to bully me. Each comment and action was documented on my part and the more that happened, the more frustrated this woman got, and then was eventually removed from the building. It was not fun, but I was vindicated. Most of the administrators are clearly a joke and I think most of us can agree on that. After 13 years and many administration changes, I have met maybe two sincere, caring principals. That is the travesty. Poor leadership=poor school and misery. Truly not rocket science.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:21 am

SOME of this is not really the building administrator's fault. Not in this specific instance, probably, but they are under fire to rate us poorly and get some oof us out. Since the news throws around numbers like only 2% are fired each year across the country and our leadership takes that as a challenge to fire more. Our leadership is out to get us and we know this. Some building administrators are under the gun to cooperate with that, no matter what they think of us as professionals.
My last principal was pulled from our building for a week and "retrained" in how to do formal observations. This training included him being observed by the trainer doing one. How ridiculous is that? I should mention that he had been our principal for over ten years at this point. The leadership felt that since he saw 2 and 3 scores most often, he was not competent. Considering that we were a team that worked on studying our craft, supported each other and asked questions of him and each other, twos and threes were hte reality, with a lot of fours.
There may be bullies out there that are bullies by choice, but not all.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 12, 2011 8:33 pm

You are so right...poor leadership=poor school...I have witnessed how good leadership builds a school and how poor leadership tears it down. The victims in this are the students, our future citizenry.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:28 am

This controversy is also overshadowing the issue of Universal running this school and that neighborhood. Kenny Gamble is a member of the Nation of Islam. He talks about it daily. He is a friend of Louis Farakhan. He speaks about Farakhan often. Anyone hear Farakhan call Kadalfi his "Brother" yesterday? Did you hear Farakhan tell the world that the "Jews" are forcing us into war with the middle-east? How about an entire part of the Nation Islam retreat last week dedicated to how the Jews were responsible for American Slavery? Nation of Islam is a HATE group and anyone that denies that should be arrested for fraud. It's really convenient that the story has shifted to Hope (which she deserves our support), when I can guarantee that most of the city DOES not understand Universal and their connection to the Nation Of Islam. Where are the reporters in this city? How can a man so closely assosiated with a hate group, just be handed part of the city to do what he wants with it? Wow. I'm embarrassed that my city is rolling over and taking it. What happened to that tough city I used to know??? How are we so accepting of a hate group?

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/iteam&id=7991338

The anti-defamation league has released a statement on Farrakhan. I personally will make sure I make of ton of noise and go to the press constantly if Gamble continues to receive federal and city taxpayer money. Why does the district want this controversy? Jew haters as operators of schools?

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/iteam&id=7991291

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on March 3, 2011 1:58 pm

Yes, we must remember that the bigger issue is the SDP didn't follow their own protocol. Universal has not been formally approved to run Audenried. In fact, they don't have approval to even operate a high school. Yet, Universal is actively advertising for teachers to work at their high school. How is this possible unless they know something more than the average taxpayer?

Audenried students have been making progress using the SDP tests. Continued progress takes time and will require more than the two and half years the school has been opened. The SDP doesn't have the data to back up their plan to turn over the school to Universal. Universal has had their eye on Audenried for many years.

http://www.southwestphillyreview.com/view_article.php?id=31

Gamble's religion doesn't matter to me. But his company's record of running schools does.

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on March 3, 2011 2:34 pm

Well said Tara.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:42 am

This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. The district cannot tell an employee not to comment about charges against them - that is patently illegal. An employee is free to comment on a case against them, but an employer cannot do the same. That isn't a union rule, that is workplace law - unionized worker or not.

Submitted by Stephanie Palmer (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:08 am

I guess it's more important to the school district to punish the teacher than to teach students. There are so very many real problems in the school district, it's hard to believe that the administrators let their individual egos get in the way. The biggest problems I found when teaching were the egos of my students which caused more problems than anything else I could name. Clearly the administrators have not yet managed to get over their own egos, so how can we possibly expect the students to get over theirs? Such a waste of time, for teachers and students. And a total waste of money paid by the taxpayers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:40 am

Seriously, I do believe that this is a bit of a tactical diversion so the focus is on a young, non tenured teacher as opposed to the real controversy which is Kenny Gamble and Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan has such a beautiful way with words regarding the "Jews..."

"Farrakhan's gave the keynote speech on Sunday during the Nation of Islam's annual founder's day celebration in front of 18,000 people.

"They are the demons, not I&They are the Satans, not I," Farrakhan said Sunday. "

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 10:18 am

Why hasn't the union issued a stronger statement? Why haven't they called for collective action?

Wayman's sycophants parrot the line: "No one cares more about kids than Linda Wayman." She cares so much that the 11th graders ar Audenreid are not being taught English. The PSD has failed in its obligation to provide these children with a highly teacher. They are failing these kids, yet there is no accountability.

Spangelberg, meanwhile sends out e-mails about Study Island ending with this pointless witticism:

Mike "Yes, bartender, I'll have a Study Island on the rocks, with a twist" Spangenberg

What a joke - comparing test prep to alcohol.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on March 3, 2011 10:03 am

Wow--is an email that inappropriate really being sent out by a high-level administrator on School District email? I'd like to say unbelievable, but it is really not.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 10:05 am

Folks...Can we leave Louis Farrakan out of this discussion. He is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. If there were evidence of proselytizing going on in schools run by Universal, then it might be fair to raise that as a concern. Otherwise, this is a side issue.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on March 3, 2011 10:44 am

Probably part of the larger plan here (or an opportunity seized) is to make sure the PSSA results at Audenried are not too good. That way, they can justify handing the school over to an outside "provider". If children truly came first, these children would not be without a highly qualified, certified English teacher in the weeks leading up to their high-stakes tests.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 10:46 am

No, it is not a side issue. Nation of Islam is a hate group that wants to transform neighborhoods into Muslim zones. GAMBLE owns Universal and has made CLEAR comments that his faith and business are one in the same. Why is that not part of the issue here? Universal has also FAILED miserably at running some city schools already. So please explain why the Nation of Islam should not be part of the discussion here? I assume you support hate in our city? Gamble does not hide from his beliefs. Well his leader just spewed MORE anti-semitism and people like you say "just ignore it." Great message we send to the children!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 10:55 am

This is what Gamble said to Philly Mag in 2007. Why doesn't this concern ALL of us as a community??? The guy is nuts.

As for other neighborhood residents who still feel overrun by Universal’s projects, Gamble is unflinching: “The welfare of the community overrides any individual.”

A community, of course, is made of individuals, and talk of “overriding” people makes them nervous. But Gamble, in his most kingly mode, casts his gaze so far into the distance that he doesn’t see the rabble at his feet. He doesn’t weigh his words for effect; he just lets them tumble out as they please.

For instance, I asked Gamble about some residents’ concern about racial segregation or supremacy. I expected a tidy denial. But his response was unfiltered: “It’s like cats,” he said. “They’re all cats. But you don’t see the lion with the tiger. You don’t see the tiger with the panther.”

I didn’t know how to respond. He continued: “It pretty much boils down to mating. Every now and then you’ll see a tiger and maybe a lion copulate, and you’ll get a tiger-lion, or something strange.”

I told him that sounds a lot like segregation. It’s not, he said; it’s consolidation. Consolidation of jobs, money and influence. In his neighborhood, he argues, black people make up the vast majority of the population, but own only a small percentage of the businesses. He said he admires other self-sustaining and culturally insular neighborhoods: “There’s nothing wrong with the Chinese having Chinatown,” he said.

http://www.phillymag.com/articles/features_king_kenny/page5

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 3:08 pm

Statements of outrage.

One of his union members is being railroaded out of her job - and possibly her career - and Jerry Jordan's response is "statements of outrage."

Why haven't you filed for injunctive relief against the school district, Jerry? Why haven't you called NLRB?

Why haven't you actually DONE anything?

Submitted by Christina (not verified) on March 4, 2011 11:41 am

Just read the Daily News blurb about Kopp's speaking engagement last night at the Academy of Natural Sciences. She said she didn't know enough about Hope's situation to comment but that TFA sees this kind of advocacy as a distraction most of the time... My paraphrase, obviously. I can NOT imagine she is clueless about her alum, and I think it was a total copout on her part. She should have denounced her publicly OR stood up for the rights of the school community as a whole to question the decision to turn it over to Universal. Way to have some integrity... Way to ride for your teachers... Or not. On the other hand, Annette John Hall's piece was truthful and hit on how teachers and students experience and speak back to these times.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on March 4, 2011 1:26 pm

Wendy Kopp appears to care about one thing - promoting herself. TFA receives an enormous amount of federal funding. (Wendy Kopp also earns a very hefty salary.) This is a quote from a letter in Rethinking Schools re: Kopp - "Kopp’s class-based arrogance has evolved into TFA becoming a cog in the reactionary privatization movement." http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/24_04/24_04_letters.shtml (More on Kopp / TFA leadership / philosophy - http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/24_03/24_03_TFA.shtml)

TFA, as an institution, is very conservative. Therefore, it is not surprising that Kopp doesn't support a teacher who asks questions. It is a shame because some TFA teachers "get it" while the leadership only wants to "get the federal money."

Submitted by Bruce Wayne (not verified) on March 5, 2011 5:55 pm

Hey genuises--like her or lump her, Wendy Kopp is the head of an organization that has about 40 different sites across the country. You really think she's all that abreast on a situation concerning a 3rd year teacher in one of those regions? At best, I'm sure she might've been debriefed about the fact that it was a situation once she came into town, but at the end of the day, at best, it's the concern of the local staff--not for her to come in and rectify/correct/admonish/support the situation with passing knowledge of everything that's transpired.

I get that there's room for criticism and all, but really, just think about it for a second. Maybe even take 20.

Submitted by Christina (not verified) on March 5, 2011 5:33 pm

Don't need 20 seconds. The 3rd year teacher made national news. Kopp travels to the city where that teacher, an alum, is being kept in a rubber room. She apparently was asked to say something about her alum and gave a mediocre response at best, something like a sound bite. And I haven't heard anything from local staff, right Notebook? Has anyone asked local staff? I'm GUESSING, their lines are gonna sound kinda like Wendy Kopp's... At best, Batma- I mean Bruce Wayne, this situation does not concern her. At worst, well... I could really start something here, but I shall refrain.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2011 6:50 pm

As a pragmatic matter, TFA has little/nothing to gain from taking a position on this. Their position would probably have little/no effect on Hope's situation, and would only serve to weaken TFA's relationship in the district. Despite much of the commentary on here, TFA actually has a pretty touch-and-go relationship with the SDP.

This is also a very unique situation that doesn't fit cleanly into any larger debate other than "The SDP is really shady." Lots of Districts very actively recruit TFA alums into leadership roles. The SDP doesn't. Outside of Wayman's assistant, the leadership of the SDP is actually on of the least TFA-influenced leaderships among districts currently "reforming."

TFA / reformists are all about data, etc. That doesn't seem to be what happened at Audenried. It seems that instead of using data, the SDP promised the school several years ago, waited for the right time, and used the Renaissance School initiative + Promise Neighborhoods as the pretense for this.

Universal's takeover could, theoretically, save Hope Moffett's job -- She seems universally liked by all parties, so if any of the current Audenried staff would be hired by Universal, she would seem likely to have a chance (obviously the whole speaking out complicates that). Since she's a non-tenured English teacher (a relatively overstaffed certification area, compared to math, science, SPED, etc), the layoffs could put her in jeopardy of losing her job. So the school becoming a charter, where seniority wouldn't be tied to employment security, could, if the layoffs get to Year 3 Secondary ELA teachers, actually be her only chance to stay at Audenried.

And union protections aren't really the issue either. Maybe they help find/provide lawyers, but the First Amendment is a lot more useful than the PFT contract in this situation. A charter school teacher in a similar situation would probably have a similar legal path, since with her exemplary evaluation record, it would be hard for the school to prove that she was disciplined for anything other than speaking out about issues of public concern.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2011 2:24 pm

Congrats to the teacher who cares enough to speak to her students with HONESTY... something lacking in the school district!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2011 7:41 pm

Until the community is organized and numbers start to add up nothing will change. In Egypt it wasn't until the protestors started to include the transportation unions, etc to make daily life and the economic flow to the country severely affected that the leaders were willing to talk change. Money talks and Ms. Moffett is in the way of somebody's millions so they are out to get her and distract from the real investigation that needs to be going on into their backdoor dealings.

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