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BGHS's Gassaway Claims His School's "F" Fails to Tell the Full Story

“This is not about pointing fingers, but there is so much more to consider," says Bernard Gassaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School

The for New York City public high schools: The seven high schools in Bed-Stuy received one A, two B's, two C's and an F, and there is one school that has not yet been rated.

However, Bernard Gassaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School, is refuting the “F” grade he feels was summarily handed to his school, claiming the only true “failure” the school has received is a fair shake at real reform.

Gassaway says although the F grade comes as no surprise, if it’s the goal of the Department of Education to close down a school, it will contribute to factors that will lead to just that. And without enough time for reform and cooperation from the DOE in providing the tools to meet the Department’s own measurements for success, the school’s profile will continue to be challenged.

“This is not about pointing fingers, but there is so much more to consider, and there are factors that we can’t ignore,” Gassaway told Bed-Stuy Patch. “When you’re dealing with a population of students with high needs constantly transferred into my school… students who were formerly incarcerated, court-involved or classified as special education, etc., I cannot turn them away. We have the need, but yet we don’t have the services.

“Its sort of a catch 22, because if you bend the rules, they can close you down. If you play by the rules and cheat the students, they can close you as well.“

Over the last three years, beginning before Gassaway took over as principal at BGHS two years ago, the school has been under intense scrutiny for . For the last five years, the graduation rate at BGHS has ranked as one of the lowest in the city, coinciding with the pass rates by students on their Regents exams, also very low.

With a current population of 1600 students, BGHS is one of the last remaining large schools in New York City to not be broken into smaller schools. Yet, according to Gassaway, its incoming freshman class has been shrinking year after year, from 1400 freshman students at one point, to its most recent 2011 enrollment of 235 new students.

For this year’s progress reports, the City instituted a curve that assigned D’s and F’s to 10 percent of schools — double the percentage of 4.7 percent of schools that were assigned D’s and F’s last year. Over all, 79 schools received D’s and 32 received F’s, a total of 51 more schools this year than last to receive the two lowest grades assigned under the system.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief academic officer for the city’s Department of Education said he believed the scores offered “a more precise and accurate representation of how the schools are actually performing,” reported the New York Times.

However, by increasing the percentage of schools to receive low grades, the city is deliberately widening the pool of schools that could be considered for closing or transformation. This year, 109 schools met the city’s criteria for closure, compared to 53 last year.

“I will not argue with the reality of the data,” said Gassaway. “I would give some of our instructional programs a D grade; I would give grade some of our Regents results an F.  We do face many challenges.

“But as there is a failure formula, there is a success formula. The DOE has decided to pursue the at Boys and Girls High School. If they want to deny this fact, then make the necessary changes - make the bold decisions.

“Do not take the easy way out and create conditions that will justify closing the school. I believe closing Boys and Girls High School has become an obsession for some individuals. They will not give up.”

And Gassaway is not giving up either. This year, he’s taking an aggressive approach to ramping up the programs that address head-on some the more critical needs of the students, including more parental involvement through , , and that give gifted students a chance to take college courses and earn college credits while still in high school.

However, none of that may matter if the school is closed after this academic school year. With an "F" grade this year, a "C" in 2009/2010 and a "D" in 2008/2009, the possibility of closure is a very real one.

“I’m not interested in manipulating the data; I’m looking to develop those who want to be developed,” said Gassaway. “My priority is to improve the quality of instruction and to motivate young people to understand the importance of achievement. The process takes 2-3 years, if not longer. In the end, I’d rather take the high road and be an example to the students to know that their successes are real.”

Correction: This article incorrectly stated that Boys & Girls High School received back-to-back F's, including this year. That is incorrect. BGHS received a C grade in the 2000/2010 academic school year.

KryptoniteNYC October 27, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Dear Ziwadi: I hesitate to respond to your "article" because I am almost certain that no one of consequence has read it. Those of us that follow your site do so only to delight in your factual inaccuracies and irredeemably lazy and biased reporting. Case in point: "Gassaway says although the F grade -- the school's second in a row -- comes as no surprise, if it’s the goal of the Department of Education to close down a school, it will contribute to factors that will lead to just that." It's not clear if you or the Principal are the source of this "fact" but it is WRONG. This year is the first and only year BGHS has received an "F" based on the city's standards. This "fact" speaks volumes about the leadership of the current Principal who has run the school to its lowest point and has managed that feat in a shorter period of time than anyone plotting the school's destruction expected. Truth be told, he was given three years to "turn the school around." In two years he has led it to abject FAILURE. Job well done!
KryptoniteNYC October 27, 2011 at 02:27 AM
As to his central point: “This is not about pointing fingers, but there is so much more to consider, and there are factors that we can’t ignore." This has everything to do with pointing fingers. Given the crazy program changes, administrative shuffling, movement of Special Education students back and forth into and out of general education and special education classes, teacher excessing and harassment leading to unproductively high turnover, academy restructuring, cancelation of Academic Intervention Services/ Regents Prep/Credit Recovery, regularly changing lesson evaluation standards, half-cocked programs that start and stop monthly, etc., finger pointing has been one of the only constants from one chaotic year to the next. Two years ago, the Principal insisted publicly that half of the teachers were "incompetent" (as reported on your site and others with absolutely no follow-up interviews of teachers ). Last year, that number magically and unscientifically shrank to one-third. Now, many teachers have been forced out or left on their own and the proof of their effectiveness and dedication is evident in the school's current poor standing.
KryptoniteNYC October 27, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Without teachers to point fingers at now he has found a new diversion from his inability to lead, he says: "When you’re dealing with a population of students with high needs constantly transferred into my school… students who were formerly incarcerated, court-involved or classified as special education, etc., I cannot turn them away. We have the need, but yet we don’t have the services." Now he is pointing fingers at the very students he is suppose to be educating. It seems as if this Principal could achieve great success if only one of the largest public high schools in Brooklyn were emptied of all of its teachers and students. That would be akin to a NBA coach (since sports is such a "lightning rod for passion") saying he could guarantee victory if only there were no players or refs. Perhaps the best course of action would be to change leadership at BGHS before we allow one man's inability to lead destroy a cultural institution.
KryptoniteNYC October 27, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Towards the end of your "article" you say: "This year, he’s taking an aggressive approach to ramping up the programs that address head-on some the more critical needs of the students, including more parental involvement through town hall meetings..." such as the one you yourself reported on which was scantly attended by about 30 people, most of whom were not even parents, out of a school of 1,600 kids! "...Parent workshops and book clubs," which also hosts about a dozen parents. "...Policies that stiffen academic requirements for student athletes," which are new, untested and are not half as effective as the leadership provided directly by the school's track coach who lead his team to athletic and academic victory -- in fact, the valedictorian who inspired the Principal's new requirements was on the track team. If you're looking for true student athlete leadership, look no further than that track coach, not the Principal. If these are the type of hackneyed ideas that were meant to "turn the school around" it's no wonder it got an "F."
KryptoniteNYC October 27, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Lacking are the concrete plans to increase attendance and scholarship, limit chaos and violence in the halls, increase the efficacy of teaching and learning in the classroom and raise academic achievement and graduation in the building as a whole. All you get is political sound bites, educational buzzwords, streetwise tough talk and, of course, blame. Blame of teachers, now students, then the DOE and eventually -- and this will certainly be the subject of his next 80 page pamphlet -- "the system."
KryptoniteNYC October 27, 2011 at 02:28 AM
The system may be broken, it may be corrupt, it may even be working exactly how its intended to the detriment of Black and Brown kids, but there is a system. One would expect that a man that has risen to such heights as a "Senior Superintendent" with the support of countless local politicians and educational gurus would know better how to manipulate that system to the betterment of the community. The principal implores "there is so much more to consider, and there are factors that we can’t ignore." The one that has been consistently ignored by you, Ziwadi, and many others is the Principal himself. It can't always be someone else's shortcomings. It can't always be the teachers, the kids, the parents, the community, the DOE. And at some level, that is what comes with the difficult job of Principal of a large, complex and struggling urban school. But if -- rather, since -- he is not up to the challenge as evidenced in the school's report card grade, it is time for the city to take action, show its true concern and commitment to bold action and remove this divisive and unaccomplished Principal.
Elizabeth Vaughan October 27, 2011 at 10:13 PM
It was evident from Mr. Gassaway's appointment as Principal that he was in over his head. The Gass has dubbed himself Chief Child Advocate who is concerned about Black and Brown but instructed Deans and Security guards not to interfere with the kids if they attempted to leave the building because this is not a prison. Mr. Gassaway is providing no assistance to his AP's preferring that they function as pitbulls to attack teachers (not assist, attack) so he can give a U rating or have them removed from the building. This is the worst form of "Black on Black" crime because it constitute the use of children.
beverly morse October 28, 2011 at 05:42 AM
He is definitely on a campaign trail. Like a politician, it's about self, lies, stretched propaganda, etc. He in no way acknowledges his own errors (like getting rid of competent staff and supplying the school with incompetent leadership as replacement and thereby sucking the life out of things that were working. Admittedly, BGHS is not getting the best students, but they had some of the best teachers and with that, the gap could have been narrowed more than it is.
SuperType7 October 30, 2011 at 03:36 AM
The Saga Begins... By the end of Mr. Gassaway's first year as Principal at BGHS, he forced out all but one of the assistant principals. This created a vacuum in supervision of the teachers who taught various subjects. And each of their department without instructional leadership. Once they were removed, he was able to bring in his crew of demoted friends. Individuals who were once principals, who, supervised alternative schools. Consequently, if they were demoted from being a principal due to incompetence, and, if they were tenured as an assistant principal prior to being demoted from the position as principal, then they were demoted down to the position of assistant principal. That's exactly what happened to Spencer D. A. Holder. He was fired because he was incompetent. Yet this does not assert by any means that they, Mr. Gassaway's crew were qualified as an assistant principal. But, it was a proven fact thought, that they were demoted due to their incompetence. They were deficient and lacking what the position as a principal required. These individuals were made assistant principals at BGHS by Mr. Gassaway. The process of destabilizing the school environment started with him and his incompetent team of administrators.
SuperType7 November 02, 2011 at 11:18 PM
The Saga continues.... Just prior to coming to BGHS, Mr. Gassaway appeared on the TV program "Like it Is" with Gil Noble. He unabashedly attacked and mislabled the teachers at The Hig as being incompetent. But, did he base this misinformation on? He went into BGHS with the mindset of getting rid of all incompetent teachers. He went after senior teacheers first. In spite of the negative news regarding veteran teachers, it should be made known that in order to keep a teaching job, a teacher must complete a master degree program. Generally, they are given at least 5 years to complete. However, many teachers have more than one master degree. And, in some cases, hold doctorate degrees or, are in the process of working to complete a doctoral program. Throughout their professional lives, teachers attend professional development workshops, seminars and take additional courses. There are some incompetent teachers, but they are in the minority. Mr. Gassaway and his crew of incompetent administrators made absolutely no effort to interact or get to know any of the staff. As a matter of fact, he used one malel and one female teachers who were students of his while pursuing their credentials to become administrators. He gave them the freedom to go throughout the school building and write as many negative observations of teachers that they can. In June 2010, they assisted him giving as many unsatisfactory ratings that he could all in an effort to excess as many teachers possible.
SuperType7 November 02, 2011 at 11:33 PM
The Saga continues... There were as many as 25 teachers who Mr. Gassaway gave unsatisfactory ratings in June 2010. DOE sent some of those now ATRs to other schools and, some teachers left on their own. What Mr. Gassaway admited in September 2010, was that they expected those 25 teachers would remain as ATRs at BGHS but, would now be on DOE's payroll and not the payroll of BGHS. What happened instead, was that now BGHS was understaff by 13 teachers. Who did he hurt? The very students he professes to be an advocate for. There were students programmed for courses but, there were no teachers and, consequently, the students did not receive instruction.In addition, they did not receive any preparation for the regents coming up in January 2011. For the entire Fall 2010 term, a significant number of students who were negatively affected by Schedule A & Schedule B, did not have any insturction for the entire term. And some of them were seniors and needed those regents to graduate. Because the parents of these students did not step up and challenge this error, it went unchallenged. In January 2011, an additional 6 teachers were either forced to retire, transfer out of BGHS or, left the System altogether. What kind of advocate is he? It appears as if he is reinventing himself. And, this school year 2011-2012, for the first two months of this school year, there were, again, students in classrooms with substitute teachers, no teachers & no instruction. Who's incompetent?
M Davis November 09, 2011 at 12:13 AM
The late Principal Frank Mickens would find the current academic status of Boys & Girls HS appalling! The thought of closing The High is beyond the pale for alumni, current students, parents, and people in the Bed-Stuy community. Principal Bernard Gassaway, The Department of Education, our local politicians and community people need to work together to insure that Boys & Girls HS remains a beacon of hope and educational opportunity for the students it serves. The father of two B&G High alumni - the classes of 1991 and 1992.
Imani November 09, 2011 at 03:35 AM
Wow, I'm not sure if any of these posters have any idea what they're talking about! I worked at BGHS under Mr. Mickens, Mr. Holder, Mr. Gassaway AND I graduated from the High. If outsiders even KNEW what really went on under previous administrations that set the stage for the condition the school is in today, they'd be incredulous! The staff that Mr. Gassaway terminated were incompetent for YEARS and he was simply cleaning house to rid the school of staff who were sub par. I know because they were my teachers and I worked with them. People complain that the system is rife with lack luster teachers, but when this principal fires them, everyone's up in arms. I remember the old days under a previous administration when the school ILLEGALLY barred the "bad kids" from admission to the school in order to create a utopia, and the community fell for the smoke and mirrors. Unfortunately and fortunately Mr. Gassaway is a principal who admits all zoned students (as per the law), fires bad teachers and has implemented numerous programs in the school to enrich the extracurricular offerrings. I'm just touching on a small part of the back story. There are several untold, little known sides to this story and it's too bad they can't be told.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Imani, great post! As a person with a working knowledge of the school, it's good to hear your perspective. I wonder why you were not vocal, publicly about the conditions in the school under "previous administrations" when they were still in place? Was that not the time to affect change? Hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to critique the past but what about the present? Surely you will benefit from your staunch loyalty to the current administration, as I'm sure you already have. But we don't have to wait years to reflect on the current principal's effectiveness, the stats speak for themselves. This year, for the first time in its history, Boys and Girls High School received an "F." It was the only Bed-Stuy high school to do so. What used to be the "Pride and Joy" of this community has now become an embarrassment. While "blame" for this does not rest solely on the current Principal's shoulders, "responsibility" to fix it does and in that regard he is failing. There can be no equivocation of this. The stats speak for themselves.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:28 PM
At present, the city has not put BGHS on the list of schools to be closed so there is still an opportunity for the community to "save it." This question/crisis is in no way connected to the current administration. Contrary to his thinking, this principal IS NOT Boys and Girls High School. He is merely an interchangeable bureaucrat. He is middle management. His job is to pick one of a menu of options presented to him by the city to move the school forward and seemingly every choice he makes fails -- as shown in the statistics. Where he does go “off the script" he fails in curious new ways. It is for this reason that the school received an "F." Other schools in similar situations that had sound, fair, and effective leadership have battled back from closure. But under the current principal's command, the school has continued to decline. For this reason, he should be removed. Perhaps his approach and knowledge-base was sufficient a decade ago at Beach Channel under different circumstances, but school policy and kids have changed -- A LOT! His skills do no match the need at BGHS. Essentially, the same critique he -- and clearly you -- have of some teacher at the school equally apply to him. If the city's observations of him (and the product of his efforts) are as valid as his observations of some teachers than the conclusion is the same: incompetence. If teachers should go, so should he.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Let's talk specifics. First, the charge of "incompetence." You have made it and so has the principal. Who and what determines competence? I know of several examples of teachers being rated "unsatisfactory" -- essentially, incompetent -- by this principal and his APs without EVER being observed or after insufficient observations. Those that were deemed unsatisfactory/incompetent were then not given appropriate development to improve. Development, not simply evaluation, is central to the role of an administrator. It is their job. An administrator that does not or cannot provide staff development cannot be considered competent. So this term can be flung both ways.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:28 PM
In your post, Imani, you said "the staff that Mr. Gassaway terminated were incompetent for YEARS and he was simply cleaning house to rid the school of staff who were sub par." The terms "incompetent" and "sub par" are not interchangeable. In every institution there will be those that are above average, average and below average. Relative weakness is not grounds for termination or proof of outright incompetence, it’s an opportunity for principals and APs to develop those individuals. At the end of the day, Principals are managers of a staff. Part of this is developing a culture/tone to retain good teachers/APs and develop weaker ones. One of the schools current problems is the steady loss of teachers. The principal -- and you -- might argue that those that left were the "worst." But that is not the case. Teachers of all abilities have left the school. So many, in fact, that its programs are understaffed and students – many students – have languished in classes since September without permanent instructors. The staffing of a school is one of the most basic responsibilities of a principal. On this too, the principal is a failure.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Another question worth asking is if the classification of competent/incompetent is subjective or fair. There is one man who while AP of a particular academy (not a “subject” because he lacked sufficient credentials of content knowledge to lead a subject) gave “U” ratings to many teachers in a variety of disciplines with specious support for his ratings and poor development plans as follow-up. So poorly did he lead his Academy that he was removed to another which was recently shutdown by the state for violating educational policy (I will return to this shortly). Now he operates as “AP-At-Large” an arbitrary title bearing no value or responsibility which ostensibly gives a salary to a man who is the Principal’s personal friend and lackey willing to “U-rate” teachers falsely to help the Principal achieve his ends but has yet to demonstrate any real benefit to the school. Poll the staff and most will tell you, he is certainly incompetent and yet he is supported and empowered by the principal. One has to wonder if competence or loyalty is the most important quality the Principal values in his staff. Certainly you wonder the same thing which is likely the motivation behind your post.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Now, to your final claim that previous administrations, unlike this one, barred students from receiving equal access to a BGHS education, that is blatantly untrue. The state recently shutdown a program called the ACE Academy for overage, under-credited, at-risk, disruptive students. The program was ostensibly created to warehouse poor performing kids and help them attain (through a form of Credit Recovery, not true and meaningful instruction) enough credits to transfer to another setting. The only difference between this program and the initiatives of previous administrations was in the physical location in the building of the program. While I personally don’t disagree with the program if you are to criticize other administrations for using similar methods to improve the school, be intellectually honest about your critique.
Huey P November 10, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Ultimately, staff will be divided over whether or not they support and agree with the current principal’s leadership of Boys and Girls High School and debates like this will persist. That is healthy. But in those debates what will become evident is that the staff itself – the teachers, good, average and even your beloved “incompetents” -- have the knowledge, dedication and insight enough to provide meaningful leadership to the school to move it forward. Their input and energy will strengthen the school and move it in the right direction. That was always the missing component. The question they and those in power to affect policy in the school have to ask is if the principal is supporting or stifling that kind of progressive, teacher-driven, broad-based change. Is he a bully or a builder? In the school’s most recent Learning Environment Survey – like the Report Card in which every indicator moved in the negative direction – 35% percent of teachers said they “don’t trust the principal at his word,” 36% said they do not feel the principal “encourages open communication on important issues” affecting the school, and 38% said he was “not an effective manager.” The tribe has spoken. It’s time to vote him off the island.
Lynette November 11, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Huey P, with respect to this comment. My daughter graduated in 2003 under Mickens' administration. Her friend had a really difficult time adjusting to high school, and by what was to be her Junior year, she was under credits. After several conversations with many people, that young lady decided to make a change in her situation. Upon returning to BGHS, she was met by security at the door with a box and told that she was not "welcome" back at BGHS. Unfortunately, her mom did not fight for her right to continue to attend. She was only 16.
M Davis November 12, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Huey, you are bringing some serious heat to the academic condition at BGHS, and Principal Gassaway's management style. The body of your text is written like an insider with a beef against Gassaway. With the clarity of your writing regarding BGHS current leadership, I sense that you have the bonafides and desire to replace Bernard Gassaway. I look forward to the next chapter in this saga. As an aside, I can't believe the foulup the BGHS principal and boys basketball coach displayed when the NBA players showed up to play an exhibition game against The High. It turned out the current B&G hoopsters were not allowed to play against the pros due to a Board of Education rule that set October 31, as the cutoff date for high schoolers to compete against pros; and the public was disinvited by Principal Gassaway when they showed up at B&G to attend the basketball contest yesterday. I was unimpressed.
SuperType7 November 14, 2011 at 02:15 AM
The Saga go on, and on, and on... Perhaps the memory of Bed-Stuy's long time residents cn recall the glory days of "The High." The actual turning around of the school began with Mr. Phil Cox. But, when Frank N. Mickens who, served as a teacher and a coach, returned to "The High" in September 1972, the turnaround of BGHS picked up momentum. He selected and built his cabinet of assistant principals. Also, these assistant principals conducted professional development during every departmental meeting. For new, untenured teachers, Mick required three formal observations per term with unlimited informal observations. Therefore, if teachers were not performing according to his supervision, they were mentored and were assigned buddy teachers. These buddy teachers mentored these junior teachers. There was interclass visitation among teachers. Teachers observed one another while teaching a lesson. Therefore, the school's report grade did not drop below a "C" but, was always higher. The actual decline occurred during the administration of Spencer D. A. Holder, the principal who followed Mickens. But the actual failing grade occurred for the very first time under the management of Mr. Gassaway. The A.P.s whom Mickens left in place when he retired in 2005, were present during Holder's administration. It was these A.P.s, seasoned supervisors and instructional leaders kept the school from declining further. In spite of Holder's incompetence and ineffectiveness.
SuperType7 November 14, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Returning to the Saga... Mr. Mickens returned to "The High" in September 1987. I struck the incorrect key here. Dates are important. Historically, BGHS never, ever received a school report card grade of an "F." During those years, the turnover rate of teachers were relatiely low. There was ongoing professional development by seasoned supervisors who were also, seasoned instructional leaders. The turnover rate of teachers were, still constant during Spencer D. Holder's administration. It was during the administration of Mr. Gassaway that the turnover rate of teachers escalated. And, more so, after his appearance on Gil Noble's program "Like It Is" Mr. Gassaway came in with the mindset of that the teachers in BGHS were incompetent. And, he had absolutely no proof of this. He used former students of his who were preparing to become administrators and, who no experience in observing teachers' lessons. They went throughout the building and wrote observation reports of teachers' lessons which offered no suggesions as to how a teacher could improve but, provided the inforation that he needed to give out as many unsatisfactory ratings as possible. At least 25 teachers were now excessed in June 2010, the end of his first year. September 2010, BGHS was understaffed by 13 teachers. An additional 6 teachers left on their own in January 2011. BGHS was short staffed an entire fall term, with no teachers and no instruction for students. How could they pass a regents exam" You answer

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