P.S. 89 principal has parents, teachers uneasy

P.S. 89 principal has parents, teachers uneasy
(l-r) Kathy Cole, Iris Rosario and Maria Guzzone during last month’s rally at P.S. 89.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

The former principal, parents and past and present teachers of a local school are in an uproar over the current principal’s actions.

A recent protest at P.S. 89 Williamsbridge School exposed principal Ralph Martinez’ excessive number of teacher reassignments and dismissals.

The saga began in September of 2010, when Martinez took the reins at P.S. 89.

Since his tenure began, Martinez has been responsible for the removal or reassigning of approximately 95 teachers, including 20 teachers during a one week stretch last month, the protesters charge.

The teachers were removed from their classroom settings and moved to other classrooms without notifying the parents of these changes, creating a poor learning environment for the students, they added.

“I’m convinced that Ralph (Martinez) took the position of principal with the intention of dismantling the school,” said Ron Rivera, the school’s former principal for seven years before he retired in September 2010.

“He came here to dismiss staff and remove the school from its existence – that’s what his intention is. He sees a school that he thinks is ‘struggling’ and he considers it a loss.”

Rivera said that he’d only been retired one week when he started receiving calls from staff, citing harassment, verbal and psychological abuse from Martinez. One teacher even took a leave of absence to check into a psychiatric center.

“This school had a successful, progressive, team-building atmosphere where all of the teachers were happy to be – now everybody wants to leave,” Rivera added.

Rivera said before his time as principal, students scored only 20 percent on their English, Language Arts & Math state tests, but after he took over that number rose to about 70 to 80 percent.

He said he only had about a 1 or 2 percent teacher turnover rate, compared to Martinez’s current 95 out of 145 teachers that have been moved.

According to Rivera, Martinez is forcing teachers to sign petitions against other teachers or else become his next victim.

Teachers are not the only ones who have been shut out.

Former parent coordinator Francine Palmiery, who was was a respected icon in the community, was pushed out.

Assistant principal Karen Shapiro, who brought in many programs and grants, including over $250,000 to renovate the school’s library and auditorium, was also let go.

Martinez is also charged with violating student’s Individualized Education Program, according to many parents and teachers.

The removal of so many teachers has interfered with student IEPs.

The students depend on particular teachers and teaching assistants to help them with special educational needs such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, among other learning disabilities.

“There are so many violations going on at this school – it’s absolute madness,” said parent Iris Rosario, who ran for president of the parents association, but claims she was denied the position due to a ballot box stuffing.

“It’s unfortunate that the only person who has control of this situation is the one who is causing it,” she said.

“There is a lot of corruption going on at this school,” said former teacher Jeffrey Losak, who taught at the school for 18 years and specialized in special education. “He bribes, he manipulates – and the school is suffering as a result.”

“I loved my job, whether I worked overtime or in the summers – it didn’t matter because it was all about helping the students learn,” said Maria Guzzone, the school’s former guidance counselor for 16 years. “This is a sad scenario – I didn’t want to believe that this was the reality, or that this was even possible for a school setting.”

Guzzone stated that in 2013, shortly after filing a complaint about Martinez, she received the first unsatisfactory rating of her career.

As a result of the chaos at P.S. 89, Guzzone was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. “I am still in contact with teachers there – and everyone is afraid to speak up.”

“There should be an anonymous petition sheet for parents, teachers and even students to complain about him,” said a former teacher of P.S. 89 who wished to remain anonymous to avoid any confrontations with Martinez in the future.

The rally demanding the immediate outster of principal Martinez took place outside of P.S. 89 on Thursday, March 17.

Martinez did not reply to the Bronx Times requests for comment.

Reach Reporter Steven Goodstein at (718) 260-4599. E-mail him at sgoodstein@cnglocal.com.

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