By Danielle Douglass
For over 27 years, Alfred Martin, 58, has worked as an educator in the New York City public school system. From a junior high school math teacher to a high school assistant principal, Mr. Martin has dedicated his life to serving children and helping them achieve their goals. During his years of service, Martin has only been praised for his performance, but that changed within the last school year.
Like so many senior administrators in the new Department of Education, Martin believes he is a victim of the department’s ”misguided” efforts to revamp the floundering school system. Martin is a licensed Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services (APPPS). This placed him at the helm of the guidance department and pupil personnel services at Harry Van Arsdale High School for the last eight years. Seven years out of the eight, Mr. Martin worked under Principal Dr. Bruce Bilig until he retired in 2003. During the Bilig administration there were many improvements made to the troubled Van Arsdale: the business programs were enhanced, behavioral incidents were reduced, a new science lab was installed and graduation rates slightly increased. Mr. Martin alleges that he was personally responsible for creating a cohesive and more efficient guidance department – one that worked with community organizations such as the St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp. to augment parent and staff involvement to help students achieve their goals.
Before Bilig retired, he proposed dividing the school into small, focused academics to remedy the school’s overcrowding and to provide students with more attentive instruction. But Bilig’s plan was discarded as the new deputy chancellor, Carmen Farina, had plans to phase the school out entirely to create smaller schools. Upon Bilig’s retirement in 2003, Eleanor Leonard was installed as principal, but she was among the 45 principals forced out of their positions in 2004. Like many of the 45 principals, Leonard was given little to no time to make the sweeping changes expected by the DOE, so she was let go. Mr. Martin believes Leonard was set up to fail. He believes the then-Local Instruction Superintendent (LIS), Jean Claude Brizard, wanted to clean house and set in action a number of events to do so.
According to Martin, before Leonard vacated her position, she informed him that Mr. Brizard tried to get her to give Martin an unsatisfactory rating, which she refused to do (Leonard could not be reached for comment). But Leonard’s commendation of Mr. Martin’s work would not exempt him from Brizard’s alleged plans. The first day of the school year, August 30, Mr. Martin was brought into the new Principal Kenneth Cuthbert’s office where he was informed he would no longer serve as APPPS. Martin, who holds a master’s in guidance counseling and is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in education from NYU, was allegedly told by Brizard that he was “miscast” in his role. Martin was reassigned as the Career Technical Education Supervisor (CTE), told to observe physical education classes, supervise student attendance and work with security, duties outside his licensed area. In addition, Martin was moved from his office, which was near the principal, to the fifth floor, out of the site of students. Outraged by the abrupt move and reassignment, Martin asked for assistance in his new role from Cuthbert and Brizard, but to no avail. Unhappy but undeterred, Martin persevered. “I’m an effective administrator; part of being an administrator is knowing what your role is and being able to facilitate the educational process. It certainly helps when you understand the subject matter, but I understand the rubric of good teaching and that cuts across subject matter,” says Martin.
Nevertheless, Martin was still disturbed by the chain of events and decided to write Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina. She never responded. Soon thereafter, on November 1st, 2004, his union representative filed a formal grievance, which Cuthbert and Brizard were made aware of. The very next day, Mr. Martin was pulled into the principal’s office and informed that he was to report to the Region 8 offices pending investigation of allegations made against him. Without explanation of the charges, Martin was asked to leave the building immediately. Upon arriving at the regional office, Martin was informed that the attendance coordinator claimed that he made sexually inappropriate comments to her. After being interviewed by the regional board, Martin asked if they had recommended that he be removed from the building. The board explained that the decision was solely Cuthbert’s and Brizard’s. After an extensive investigation, Mr. Martin was exonerated and returned to his position. He believes Cuthbert manipulated the accusations in order to force him out of Van Arsdale. Neither J.C. Brizard or Kenneth Cuthbert returned calls for comment.
Martin eventually wrote Chancellor Klein on January 20th, 2005, but received no reply. However, he was later given the opportunity to meet Klein at a luncheon on February 12th. It was there that Martin made the chancellor aware of his situation. Weeks later, the chancellor’s office sent a letter acknowledging their investigation of his complaint. Since then, Martin has hired a lawyer and has begun arbitration through his union regarding the wrongful reassignment.
Recently, during a routine cabinet meeting, Martin alleges that Cuthbert mentioned the results from the annual region inspection, stating that the school faired better than under Leonard’s administration, especially the guidance department, which Martin previously supervised. Martin was immediately alarmed by the comment and asked to review last year’s report. “They rated me in 5 areas and basically said that I was incompetent, the entire rating of the school was poor,” says Martin. Recalling the 2003-2004 visit, Martin says he was reviewed by Yvette Douglas, who he alleges asked him to take her to only two of the guidance offices and soon after dismissed him, 15 minutes into the review.
In his 27 years of service, Martin never received an unsatisfactory rating. In fact, a former cabinet member who worked with Martin for a number of years at Van Arsdale, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “[Martin] was very proactive with the kids and parents; he was a very commendable assistant principal.”
“This is their ill-advised way of making regime change when they didn’t have to take that route”, says Martin. “Now I understand why when I write a letter to Farina there’s no response, because Brizard is hiding behind the veneer of this flimsy report.”
Talks of phasing out Van Arsdale were not solidified until the end of Leonard’s administration, but Deputy Farina was interested in the idea since the end of Bilig’s administration. Martin believes Brizard intentionally set Mrs. Leonard up to fail in order to make the compartmentalizing of Van Arsdale seem more necessary.
Yet a strong case could be made for disbanding the school without any alleged conspiracies to remove senior faculty. Even during Bilig’s administration, the school, which has a higher spending-per-student average than all other schools in its district and most other city schools in general, performed below city standards on graduation requirements for the last five years.
Still, Alfred Martin’s situation is by no means unique in the new Department of Education. He is among countless senior administrators who have been bullied or all together forced out. One of the more notable cases of this questionable plan of action is that of former IS 390 Principal Ray Haskins.
By Danielle Douglass