Stories & Grievances
Protest Against Brooklyn Tech's Principal Dr. Lee D. McCaskill Ends With His Resignation
McCaskill resigns after it was discovered that he had improperly placed his child in a Brooklyn elementary school even though the family lives in New Jersey. Mrs. McCaskill, teacher, is removed from her school. Frightening news: the public is told that the NYC DOE did not know this was going on. Now, is anyone going to look at NYC DOE Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina? Betsy Combier
February 7, 2006
Brooklyn Tech's Principal Resigns After Wrongdoing Found
By ELISSA GOOTMAN, NY TIMES
The longtime principal of Brooklyn Technical High School, whose management style provoked frequent battles with many of his teachers, is stepping down, officials said yesterday, after it was discovered that he had improperly placed his child in a Brooklyn elementary school even though the family lives in New Jersey.
As part of an agreement, the principal, Lee D. McCaskill, will retire and pay the city $19,441 for four years of tuition, a spokesman for the Department of Education, David Cantor, said. In return, Mr. Cantor said, the department agreed not to bring disciplinary charges against the principal. The announcement was made days before the expected release of a report by Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for the city school system.
Dr. McCaskill could not be reached for comment at the school yesterday and did not return messages left at his home. The city principals' union, of which Dr. McCaskill was a vice president, declined to comment on his behalf.
For years, Dr. McCaskill, the leader of one of the city's most prestigious high schools, has been a polarizing figure, infuriating staff members and occasionally drawing protests from students.
Teachers complained that he persistently canceled the sort of activities and trips that made the school special and that he regularly censored the school newspaper, once destroying all 4,000 copies of an issue detailing problems at the school. Worst, they said, he ruled by intimidation, giving unfavorable ratings to those who criticized him publicly.
Despite the criticisms, Dr. McCaskill hung on, earning the praise of Department of Education officials. He was strongly supported in the past by Carmen Fariña, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, who said yesterday, "I wish him well. I think he's done a lot of good in that school."
But Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein was moving forward.
"We need to get Brooklyn Tech working well, get the community supporting it," he told reporters yesterday. "It's a great school, and we have a golden opportunity to put in new, exciting leadership."
"I'm not looking backward," he said, saying he was "looking forward to doing the right thing for Brooklyn Tech."
Dr. McCaskill started working for the Department of Education in 1978 as a substitute teacher. After nine years as a math teacher, he became an assistant principal at Brooklyn Tech, in Fort Greene, in 1987. He has been principal since September 1992, currently earning $125,282, according to the department.
Dr. McCaskill and his wife, Cathy, who works at Boys and Girls High School, also in Brooklyn, live in Piscataway, N.J. But for at least the past four years, they have been sending their daughter to Public School 29 in Cobble Hill, where she is a fifth grader, officials said. Ms. Fariña said she knew the couple had a child in the Brooklyn schools but did not know they lived in New Jersey.
An official who declined to be named because the investigation of Dr. McCaskill has not been made public, said that Dr. McCaskill had submitted a false address to P.S. 29.
Mr. Condon said he hoped to release his report later this week.
"I am doing an investigation, and I will not comment on it until it is completed," he said.
This is not the first time Mr. Condon has examined Dr. McCaskill. A previous investigation, in 2003, cleared Dr. McCaskill of allegations that he had sent sexually explicit e-mail messages to teachers and others between 1998 and 2000. Investigators said that in that case they had found no wrongdoing on his part.
The principal certainly had critics. The teachers' union president, Randi Weingarten, had gone to the Department of Education last spring to discuss what she described as a pervasive practice by him and a deputy of intimidating and punishing teachers.
Yesterday, some teachers at Brooklyn Tech marveled at the news that he was stepping down, which started circulating in the morning, with the posting of an announcement of an emergency meeting
"It was this buzz that reached a crescendo of excitement," said Jay Fleishman, a social studies teacher. "There was actually high-fiving and hugging in the hallways among my departmental members."
The official announcement did not mention P.S. 29, Mr. Fleishman said, adding that he and other teachers had known that the principal sent his child there. (Nonresidents may send their children to city schools legally, by filling out certain paperwork and paying about $5,000 a year.)
"What's so amazing to me is that what seems to have brought him down is this thing at P.S. 29," Mr. Fleishman said. "With all this political turmoil and then thinking he could get away with sending his kid to school in Brooklyn."
The department said that the school's assistant principal for administration, Crystal Bonds, would be interim acting principal and that a new principal would be named soon.
Jennifer Medina and Susan Saulny contributed reporting for this article.
HS PRINCIPAL-WIFE WOE
By DAVID ANDREATTA, NY POST
The city Department of Education moved yesterday to fire the teacher wife of a former principal after investigators said the couple lied about their address in order to get their child into a Brooklyn school.
A department spokesman said that Catherine Furman McCaskill, a 16-year social-studies teacher at Boys and Girls HS in Brooklyn, was reassigned to a regional office and that the city would now seek to fire her.
Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon found she and her husband, former Brooklyn Technical HS Principal Lee McCaskill, improperly enrolled their child at PS 29 in Cobble Hill, despite living in New Jersey.
Investigators said the McCaskills falsified paperwork for a $200-a-month apartment in Brooklyn. They were caught when they each claimed the other resided there on weeknights.
Lee McCaskill resigned from Brooklyn Technical last week after agreeing to pay $19,441 for his daughter's tuition in exchange for having no disciplinary action brought against him.
Together, the couple made $202,000 a year, according to the department.
In January, an online petition demanded the removal of Dr. McCaskill:
Lee D. McCaskill should be step down or be removed from Brooklyn Technical High School
Created by Scott Schubert on January 23rd, 2006 at 10:48 am AST
Brooklyn Technical High School's Principal Lee D. McCaskill is ruining the school - a school with a longstanding history of education with honor and integrity. His policies are a stranglehold that is slowly choking the life out of the school.
Among other things, he has abused his power to bully and intimidate teachers with long-standing traditions of excellence, to the point that they leave Brooklyn Tech. He had the student newspaper destroyed and shut down for over a year because he did not like what it had printed about him. He has avoided alerting the police to crimes so that he could cover up the incidents, causing the perpetrators to escape prosecution and putting the students at further risk. In response to several fires, he implemented a lockdown in the school, which did not help quell the fires, and years later even after he claimed the perpetrator had been caught, he did not reverse the lockdown, which still exists today.
Because Principal McCaskill is destroying Brooklyn Tech, we call on him to step down gracefully, or to be removed by the Department of Education if he will not.
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A Principal's War
wingie @ 1:28 am, January 28, 2004
Principal's War Leads to a Teacher Exodus
By MICHAEL WINERIP, NY TIMES
The formal process for firing bad teachers who have union protection has long been criticized as slow and cumbersome. It is also true, however, that a determined principal has many ways to force out teachers - even if they have stellar records.
Dr. Lee D. McCaskill, principal of Brooklyn Technical, one of the city's elite high schools, has been at war with many of his teachers. As reported in this column a year ago, the school was plagued by management problems that repeatedly resulted in the canceling of popular student activities, including one of the city's finer Shakespeare programs and trips to state and national competitions for the debating, chess and robotics teams. To recall briefly two examples: Teachers and students complained that the principal heavily censored the student paper; it had six advisers in six years, came out only twice a year, and in June 2002, so upset Dr. McCaskill that he ordered all 4,000 copies destroyed. And then there was the robotics club, which spent months building a robot, raised money to compete at a national meet in Florida and an hour before boarding the plane, had the trip canceled by Dr. McCaskill.
In the case of the student paper, Dr. McCaskill had said the newspapers were destroyed because the adviser sent a "preliminary" draft full of grammatical errors to the printer; others said he was upset by a story about "disrespectful students" who "spit on the floors" and "urinate in the fountains." In the case of the robotics meet, Dr. McCaskill had said "it was revealed" to him that an assistant principal "without the knowledge of the principal" had arranged the trip; the assistant was "appropriately disciplined" as a result. Others said that the principal's autocratic and disorganized management style was the real problem.
What is not in dispute is the animosity. At most city schools, it is rare for faculty members to request one union conciliation hearing a year with the principal to resolve education issues like book selection; Brooklyn Tech had four in 18 months. In the last few years, about a quarter of the 30-member English department has left, and seven reached for interviews faulted Dr. McCaskill.
Louise Maher-Johnson received years of positive or excellent classroom observations, served on several school committees and was the environmental club adviser. In 33 years, she never had an unsatisfactory rating. Then, after criticizing Dr. McCaskill in the press, Ms. Johnson received six unsatisfactory observations and five letters of misconduct in six months. She loved supplementing lessons with her collection of educational videos, using a documentary on post-Civil War Reconstruction when she taught August Wilson's play "Fences." Suddenly, she was barred by the principal from using a VCR. She always had her own classroom; suddenly she had to share two classrooms on two floors. "At 60 years old, I became a floating teacher," she said. "He wore me down; it affected my health."
Last summer, she gave up and retired.
City officials, as well as Dr. McCaskill, and his regional superintendent, Reyes Irizarry, declined to comment. "We will not respond publicly to questions about personnel matters," Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman, said. "We do not respond to teacher ratings."
Todd Friedman, a 15-year veteran, received many good ratings, served as a mentor for new teachers and wrote curriculum for the Academy of American Poets. But as a critic of the principal he was vulnerable, and in June 2002, a parent who was friends with Dr. McCaskill complained that Mr. Friedman had assigned a "pornographic" book, "Continental Drift" by Russell Banks.
It didn't seem to matter to Dr. McCaskill that "Continental Drift" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, written by one of America's most respected novelists. Or that the school's summer reading list, which went out under Dr. McCaskill's signature that very week, included "Secrets" by Nuruddin Farah, a novel that in the first 17 pages describes group masturbation and a man having intercourse with a cow.
Dr. McCaskill put a warning letter in Mr. Friedman's file, calling "Continental Drift" "inappropriate" and "sexually explicit" and threatening possible dismissal.
Mr. Friedman appealed. Under the city grievance procedure, the first hearing is conducted by the principal, who, not surprisingly, ruled that his reprimand of Mr. Friedman was entirely correct.
The second-level grievance was heard on March 19, 2003, by the office of the regional superintendent, Mr. Irizarry, a close ally of Dr. McCaskill. Mr. Irizarry didn't seem too familiar with the book; he kept referring to it as "Continental Draft." Nor did his hearing officer, who called the author "Russell Brooks." But others knew it and several groups, including the American Library Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, wrote angry letters testifying to how highly regarded the novel is. Stuyvesant High teachers wrote that the book is in their school library and that Mr. Banks's works are proudly taught there.
By then, Dr. McCaskill and Mr. Irizarry were contradicting each other. Dr. McCaskill called the novel "inappropriate." Mr. Irizarry wrote, the "issue is not related to the appropriateness of the novel," but to "Mr. Friedman's failure to follow established procedures."
To make the case go away, they offered Mr. Friedman a deal. They'd remove the reprimand if he cleared his reading choices with one of Dr. McCaskill's assistants. Mr. Friedman refused. His file was several inches
thick by now, but his most basic question was still unanswered. Could he teach "Continental Drift"?
In May, school officials surrendered. They removed the reprimand without any concessions by Mr. Friedman. He'd won, but he lost. He had embarrassed the principal publicly. "If I stayed at Brooklyn Tech, my life would be miserable," he said. He joined the exodus, transferring to Midwood High. To this day, no one has said whether it's O.K. to teach "Continental Drift."
Alice Alcala is one of the most respected Shakespeare teachers in the city. At Brooklyn Tech, she won a $10,000 grant, bringing the Royal National Theater of Britain to do student workshops and spending Saturdays preparing her classes to do their own performances. But she spoke out against the principal. When he tried killing her Shakespeare program, she went over his head to the central administration and got it reinstated.
The day after she was quoted in news articles criticizing Dr. McCaskill, she received an unsatisfactory classroom observation rating for the first time in 28 years of teaching. She was repeatedly denied access to the auditorium and in June, got an unsatisfactory for the year. "At 53, I almost lost my livelihood," she says.
But she got a break. The principal at Murry Bergtraum High in Manhattan knew what a gifted teacher she was and gave her a position.
"I'd been so beaten down," Ms. Alcala said. "When I requested the auditorium, I couldn't believe the next day I got permission. I kept thanking them. They said, 'Relax, this is not like Brooklyn Tech.' I felt like I'd come out of a nightmare."
Wayne Gagnon, the Bergtraum assistant principal who supervises Ms. Alcala, says they are "absolutely thrilled" with her work.
Ms. Alcala has won $1,800 in grants, had a local Shakespeare company come to work with her students, and in December put on several student performances of "Macbeth," featuring the witches in a step dance that brought down the house.
Great teachers inspire, and after seeing Ms. Alcala's witches dance, another teacher, Wil Hallgren, plans to do Aristophanes' "Frogs" with his class, featuring a rap-style debate between Euripides and Aeschylus.
As for Brooklyn Tech, there's no course solely devoted to Shakespeare anymore.
2 Comments »
Recently, I've been Googling some of my high school teachers. I didn't like my high school correction, I don't like my high school. I abhor its politics, and as a student, a teacher and something mildly resembling a mathematician, its current math department policies anger me. I am probably going to stop acknowledging that its English department exists at some point because it is so pitiful that it should deserve pity, not anger, but I'd rather by pitying other things. Rumor has it that the department chairperson gave a girl detention for wearing ugly clothes. For a long, concise, journalistic summary of why I hate my high school, here's a copy of the latest and most famous news stories about how everyone hates the administration that I may annotate at some point. But, in short, I hated the place.
Pingback by the fairy typewriter » Swedish Fish : 10/25/2005 @ 1:55 am
I loved most of the teachers and the students, but the Administration (basically the same one there now) is a soul-crushing, confused block of people obsessed with keeping Tech's reputation and not worried at all with the life of the Tech student. It's very sad, and all of us Technites have to speak out and say it's not an acceptable situation. There are many groups speaking out about Tech and Principal McCaskill especially, and it's about time. We all still care about the school, or at least we don't want the students to suffer as we did, or worse. So we have to bring Technites together and try to make the school a place we're proud to say we went to. It used to be, once.
Comment by Scott Schubert: 11/8/2005 @ 2:30 pm