BREAKING from the Chief Leader Newspaper
13 Adult Ed. Teachers Sue, Claiming Age Bias Behind Negative Evaluations
By CRYSTAL LEWIS May 10,
ROSE-MARIE MILLS: Claim she’s engaged in purge.
‘THE ATMOSPHERE HAS CHANGED’: Sarah Tyson, who has worked for the Office of Adult and Continuing Education for 21 years as a Case Manager Counselor, said she was given an ‘unsatisfactory’ rating for attendance for taking time off to care for her sick mother after her request for leave was denied. ‘This program used to be a family,’ she lamented.
EASIER SAID THAN EXPLAINED: Roberta Pikser, who was fired last year after 16 years of teaching adult education, said Teachers were told they were given negative ratings for not differentiating among the needs of their students, but that they were given no guidance on how such distinctions were to be made.
Thirteen educators over the age of 50 who worked in the Department of Education’s troubled Office of Adult and Continuing Education have filed a suit claiming that they were targeted with poor ratings and discipline because of their age.
Former Adult Education Teachers have previously described low morale and a hostile climate under the leadership of Superintendent Rose-Marie Mills, who has run the program since 2012.
‘Suddenly I’m Bad’
“Up until Ms. Mills took over, I’d received satisfactory evaluations, but the year she took over I suddenly became a bad Teacher,” said Lisa Miller, 57, who taught at OACE for nine years before she was discontinued.
“It’s like they were on a mission to get rid of all of the senior people,” said Sarah Tyson, 63, who has worked in the program for 21 years as a Case Manager Counselor.
Last year, OACE served 28,700 students seeking to learn English, earn high-school equivalency diplomas or get career training. According to several staff members, at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, 28 of the program’s 140 Teachers received unsatisfactory ratings -- most of whom were older than 40, the age protected by employment-discrimination laws. That 20 percent of the educators received unsatisfactory ratings was a sharp contrast with the less-than one percent of Teachers who receive the lowest rating system-wide.
Several Teachers described receiving what they claimed were unfair “unsatisfactory” ratings after classroom observations. The Chief has previously reported that former Assistant Principal Luckisha Amankwah believed she was retaliated against after she didn’t give negative evaluations to two Teachers who had filed grievances.
Program Turned ‘Toxic’
Adam Weiss, 55, who retired last month and taught in the program for 27 years with an unblemished record prior to Ms. Mills’s tenure, claimed he started receiving multiple letters in his file during his last years on the job.
“One year, it was really egregious: I had two observations in the fall I got satisfactory ratings on, and then at the 11th hour in June I was observed and given an unsatisfactory,” he said, adding that he got the negative evaluation because of an incorrect lesson plan.
He said he appealed the rating, and got the unsatisfactory mark removed from his record after he won. He said that in recent years, the adult education program has become “toxic.”
“I was praised for my teaching and my students were fond of me: before, it wasn’t a cutthroat environment,” he said.
Ms. Tyson said she received an unsatisfactory rating last year for attendance after she left the state to take care of her sick mother; her request for time off was denied.
‘Used to Be a Family’
“This program used to be a family,” the union chapter leader said. “But now the atmosphere has changed.”
Educators who receive unsatisfactory marks are barred from teaching summer classes or substituting, negatively affecting their income.
For Ms. Miller, who currently teaches adult literacy at two other programs part-time, the result of multiple unsatisfactory ratings was her termination in 2016. She said she had to cash out her pension in order to survive.
She said that she received negative comments in her observations for things such as not telling students to discuss the lesson with each other and for not differentiating, or teaching to individual students' needs.
“There are things that make it hard to teach adults,” she said. Unlike schoolchildren, she noted, attendance isn’t mandatory for adult learners, whose skill level can vary from being unable to speak English to having advanced degrees. “I think Mills wants to follow the model of how K-12 Teachers teach. She doesn’t like the way we teach, but it’s a different game.”
A Word Without Clarity
Roberta Pikser, 76, who worked at the OACE for 16 years before being fired last year, said she believed differentiation was the reason many of the veteran Teachers were given bad ratings. “The big word was ‘differentiation,’” she said. “But no one ever said ‘it should be differentiated this way’ or ‘it should be that way,’” she added, noting that the union’s contract leaves implementing the instruction method up to a Teacher’s discretion.
The four veteran Teachers were among the 13 who joined forces last June after they realized how many senior Teachers received negative evaluations.
“We thought we’d have a better chance defending ourselves from this attack as a group,” Ms. Pikser said.
Ms. Tyson said that as a chapter leader, she felt it was her duty to speak out. “Most of the Teachers are afraid for their livelihood,” she said.
The educators are being represented by attorney Bryan Glass. "Discrimination and harassment have no place in our public schools,” he said. “We look forward to resolving this as expediently as possible for the sake of our clients and their students."
A spokesman for the Law Department said it would review and respond to the complaint.
A Conditional Wish
Ms. Pikser is hoping to have her job restored, for the unsatisfactory rating to be removed from her record and to receive back pay. “I want to be made whole,” she said.
Ms. Miller said she was seeking back pay and damages. “Maybe my job back, too,” she said. “But not if Mills is still in control.”