Despite a New York Post expose detailing a history of problems at JHS 80, teachers came in defense of its principal, embroiled in controversy. The New York City Department of Education is now reportedly investigating the school, a pledge already made by the New York City Council.
But teachers, five of whom declined to give names to the Norwood News, spoke highly of principal Emmanuel Polanco and his ability to turn the school around.
Dayana Nunez, a 14-year veteran of the school, praised Polanco’s administrative performance and the the school’s performance. “They tell a little truth and expand it with a bunch of lies,” said Nunez. “This school has been a transformation. A total transformation. Our classrooms are clean, our hallways are clean.”
Nunez, who teaches a total of 100 students for all her three classes, pointed out to Polanco’s accessibility and upgrades in technology. Among them is equipping the school with laptops, which Nunez said teachers can monitor at any point.
Two teachers, who declined to give their name, said parents mentioned in the Post article were motivated to tell their story out of a “personal vendetta.” Conditions at the school were grossly exaggerated, they said.
A teacher’s aide, Jose Perez, said Polanco is “a great principal.”
Parents also expressed satisfaction with the school. Jose Espinosa, a parent of a student, said conditions have gotten better since 2013.
The news comes amid a story by the Post detailing a history of problems at the school, relying on accounts from parents and teachers. They all put the school’s blame on the Polanco, who has allowed loyal staffers to threaten other teachers while downplaying violent incidents at the school. The report outlined several incidents of violence, including one where Polanco had fought a student, according to one account made by a parent that was published in the article. There was also an allegation of an incident where two eight graders dropped a six grader on his head, leading school aides to hold off on calling the police. The New York Police Department says there have been no incidents reported to them.
The New York City Department of Education is reportedly launching an investigation into the incident.
“I was thinking about sending my daughter to this school next year, but I don’t see that happening right now,” said Mauro Morel, a parent of a seventh grader attending the school.
Telly Martinez, a parent of a seventh grader, said the school’s problems extend to the building. “Something needs to be done,” said Martinez. “The safety of our children is very important to us.”
Sources told the Norwood News that officers from the local 52nd Precinct sat down with administrators on Jan. 8 to determine the safety of the school. The school has attempted to do some damage control by setting up a hastily organized 5 p.m. meeting on Jan. 8 to discuss the allegations made.
Meantime, officials with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union representing public school teachers, also met with staffers. A UFT rep held an open forum, gauging teachers on how they felt about the news story. In a statement, Richard Mantell, UFT vice president for middle schools, said the union “alerted the Department of Education to a slew of bad decisions by this particular principal.”
“Some changes have been made but the bulk of our complaints are still outstanding. So we will continue to advocate,” said Mantell.
For the last few years 6th-to-8th grade school has hit a slump thanks to plummeting math and English test scores, according to documents reviewed by the Norwood News. The 2015-16 School Quality Snapshot report showed 14 percent of students passed the state English exam while 16 percent of students passed the state math exam. These marks fell well below the district and citywide English and math test rates, which showed 24 and 20 percent of the district passed the English and math test while 37 and 32 percent of the city passed the state English and math test.
Polanco has been met with controversy before. In February 2013, Polanco starred in a salacious music video dubbed “El Siki” that raised questions on whether his background makes him fit to be an administrator. Despite backlash, Polanco was allowed to keep his job with the city standing by him for the last few years.
The issue has caught the attention of Councilman Andrew Cohen, representing Norwood. In a statement, Cohen said, “these allegations are troubling and should be taken seriously. I’m reaching out to all parties involved to ensure the safety of students, teachers, and administrators.” A spokesperson for Cohen said the office did not receive any complaints from teachers or parents about conditions at the school.
Cohen’s remarks came a day after the New York City Council pledged to investigate the local middle school that’s been on the state’s Turnaround List for the last few years, qualifying it for some extra funding from the state. The city has placed the school on its Renewal Schools list in 2015, qualifying the school for more money.
In an email to the Norwood News, Polanco called the Post story “disparaging.”
Editor’s Note: The next Community Education Council will meet on Jan. 18 at 3202 Steuben Ave.