A Hoboken Drama: Saving Mrs. Ohaus
TONIGHT: Last chance for Ohaus & Hillenbrand to appeal to the board
The regrettable Hoboken saga of Rose Markle and Theresa Minutillo’s personal jihad against Paula Ohaus and Chen-Yen Hillenbrand comes to a legal crescendo tonight as each is granted their mandated “Donaldson Hearing” to state their case directly to the board about how they should not accept the “non-renewal” status recommended by new Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback.
Public: a chance to speak in support of Ohaus and Hillenbrand
A regular board meeting will begin at 7pm, and members of the public who wish to address school issues can sign up for the public portion to address the board.
After the regular meeting concludes, the Donaldson hearing will begin.
Members of the public can only speak before the close of the regular meeting, not during the hearing. In fact, Toback is also not supposed to speak during the Donaldson hearing, which state law says is not designed to be “an adversarial hearing.”
Markle is used to making up her own rules at board meetings, and is likely to ignore the procedure and allow Toback to offer counterpoints to the board. Ohaus is not accused of breaking any law, but has run afoul of certain egos in Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s Board of Education majority.
The meeting begins at 7 in the windowless basement lair of the School Board at 1115 Clinton Street.
Kids First continues hate; community shows strong support for Ohaus
Local Television Media adds coverage
While the low-turnout City Council election was taking place yesterday, there was a marathon session at the Board of Education last night.
For your review – here are prepared remarks from Hoboken Republican Nathan Brinkman – as well as a TV News Segment from MY9 News:
“Don’t cast treasured Hoboken teachers aside”
“I am a Hoboken resident. And I am also the father of a small child.
And so I feel more personally invested than ever in our community—and in our community’s schools in particular. Like many young families, we’ll soon be faced with a question: do we trust our public schools to provide our son with the education he needs and deserves?
And if the answer is no, we’re faced with a second dilemma. That is, can we afford to stay in a town we’ve come to know and love? And so it’s with that perspective that I’ve come here tonight, to simply and respectfully implore you to reconsider your plans to fire two of our best and most beloved educators: Paula Ohaus and Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand.
I am not opposed to firing employees for cause. But in this case, it seems like Ohaus and Hillenbrand are being punished for their success. As you may know, I am all in favor of modernizing, streamlining and, yes, downsizing our district’s workforce, so we can allocate resources more wisely to the classroom and provide some much-needed tax relief.
But that’s not what’s happening tonight. That’s not what’s at stake here.
[showhide more_text=”►►►► Show the rest of Nathan’s comments…” less_text=”Hide Comments ◄◄◄◄”]
The official position of this board, as I understand it, is that for statutory reasons they cannot lower total spending one more dime. And so any money “saved” here will not mean tax relief. Instead, it’ll be spent.
So what sense does it make to cut from our few centers of excellence (the high school’s theater program and the Johns Hopkins Program for Talented Youth)?
You’ve heard testimony after testimony from students whose lives were touched by the mentorship of Ms. Ohaus.
I’ll simply echo those sentiments. She is a treasure. Our district should thank her, not cast her aside. Now I’d like to take a moment to discuss the importance of retaining Ms. Hillenbrand.
One of the reasons I respect and admire Ms. Hillenbrand is that she brings a wealth of results-focused, private-sector experience to the classroom. And I know that she’s a traditional, “no-fluff” math teacher. And I know that she—to her credit—stands opposed to a lot of the nonsense that comes from some graduate schools of education, in the names of “fuzzy math” and “Everyday Math.”
So I fear that her forced departure signals a continued drift in a decidedly “fuzzier” direction.
And that, as the parent of a prospective student, would be a deal-breaker for me.
So I hope that you’ll vote “no” on amending the union’s contract for the express purpose of getting rid of these highly-effective teachers.
And I hope you’ll refuse to vote “yes” on any list of rehires that fails to include the names Paula Ohaus and Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand.
I thank you for your consideration, and I thank you all for your service to our schools.
Markle and Toback move to FIRE Paula Ohaus
May 9, 2011:
Still stinging from their overwhelming election defeat two weeks ago, Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s faction on the Board of Education is moving to take vengeance on popular teachers who don’t tow their party line. In a move that required an eleventh hour change to official district policy, nationally acclaimed Hoboken High School Theater Program Director Paula Ohaus is on a list of teachers to be fired at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
Board President Rose Markle and Vice President Theresa Minutillo, who are close allies of Zimmer, have targeted Ohaus. They are also firing Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand who founded the district’s Johns Hopkins Program for Gifted Students and 4 other teachers. Here is an update on the situation posted on the blog of the Hoboken Republican Club:
War on Excellence: Continuing Persecution of Highly Effective Teachers
“On Tuesday night , our school board plans to vote on firing six district employees. Unfortunately, two of our district’s best and most beloved educators—Paula Ohaus and Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand—are on the list of the doomed.
Ever since the “Kids First” faction assumed control, they have seemed determined to root out our schools’ few remaining centers of excellence (they’ve already abolished the International Baccalaureate). Tuesday’s vote comes after two years of hostility towards Ohaus from the Kids Firsters and their hand-picked superintendents. Evidently, they’ve been egged on by jealous educators who resent high achievers in a unionized culture that doesn’t especially prize hard work, excellence and merit. And now it appears that Hillenbrand has fallen victim to the same mistreatment.
In order to pull off these firings, Superintendent Mark Toback had to fashion a secret deal with Board President Rose Markle and local teachers’ union head Gary Enrico. Toback, who started his job in March, missed the April 30 deadline for not renewing teacher contracts for the next school year. So he negotiated with Enrico and Markle to amend the teachers’ contract and retroactively move the deadline to May 15. It is not known what Enrico got in return for selling out Ohaus and Hillenbrand.
The full board will vote Tuesday night on switching the deadline. Passing this measure would clear a path to vote on the list of teachers to renew for the coming year. Ohaus, director of the high school’s widely-acclaimed theater productions, and Hillenbrand, who founded the district’s Johns Hopkins Program for Gifted Students, are not on the list. So approving the list means, in effect, firing the two.
To save these teachers—and their respective centers of excellence—please attend Tuesday’s 7 PM meeting, located on 1115 Clinton Street. For more information, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.“
It’s also worth noting that Markle and Toback scheduled this news to break AFTER the Board of Ed election, and be considered at a meeting that begins when many concerned citizens will be busy with the City Council elections tomorrow.
Hoboken Theater Director claims district harassed her into resignation
Nationally recognized Hoboken High School theater program director Paula Ohaus had the audience cheering at Tuesday’s school board meeting as she agreed to discuss her last two years of “enduring harassment” from Interim Superintendent Peter Carter. Leaders of the Board of Education majority who made it clear they wanted Ohaus gone apparently directed those actions.
Board President Rose Markle and Vice President Theresa Minutillo, who critics say have acted on personal vendettas since obtaining majority rule of the board, have apparently targeted the popular teacher.
While the crowds never materialized at the first city council candidates’ debate across town, dozens of parents and students stormed the small meeting room to hear new Superintendent Mark Toback and the board hash out Ohaus’ decision to resign her position and then rescind that move just hours before the monthly meeting.
At times the meeting turned hostile as Jean Marie Mitchell and her allies traded barbs with Carmelo Garcia and Frances Rhodes-Kearns, her opponents in the April 27th Hoboken Board of Education election.
Standing room only at the Board of Ed
Students, alumni and parents rose to praise “Mz. O” and her skill as a teacher, mentor and cheerleader. “The students have been lost in all of this,” said sophomore Ariel Cruz. The Hoboken Fire Department was even called in to investigate capacity issues at the meeting, but found no violations.
The turmoil began earlier this month, just a week after the curtain came down on the acclaimed production of “Hairspray.”
Toback called Ohaus into a meeting with him and interim assistant superintendent Walter Rusak. Ohaus was told to bring her union representative, so teachers’ union president Gary Enrico also attended. She said she was quizzed about 24 items.
“It was more of an inquisition than a meeting,” a subdued Ohaus told the crowd in her slight Irish brogue. “I felt interrogated. I was devastated, unprepared, demeaned and in tears.”
While acknowledging that he had on hand a thick file of issues regarding Ohaus’ alleged mis-management of the theater department, Toback said that meeting was merely informational. He wanted to go over some issues before the next production, “Alice in Wonderland,” scheduled for late May. After starting just a month earlier, he said he had no intention of asking for her resignation. With all the issues facing the poor-performing Hoboken Public Schools, some wonder why Markle and Minutillo directed Toback to go after Ohaus and her successful program as one of his first priorities. Others say it is indicative of a high level of jealousy of her success and popularity.
Ohaus arrived about 20 minutes after the board meeting began and got a standing ovation when she was introduced by Garcia. In a rare move for a school staff member, she waived her right to have her personnel issues discussed only in closed session in order to address the open meeting.
Minutillo denied that the board had been anything but supportive of the theater program, ticking of payments to professionals who help put together the show, such as musicians
and seamstresses. Ohaus, however, said she had felt harassed by Peter Carter, who served as interim superintendent for a year and a half. “There was an environment of fear,” she added.
Petty nitpicking & harassment plague Ohaus
One complaint from Toback was that Ohaus had set up a Facebook page for the production, a charge she denied. Liz Markevich, whose daughter had a lead role as a freshman, told the crowd that she had set up the Facebook page and got a backstage blog going in order to market the play to a wider audience. “I got permission from every parent,” she said. “Mr. Carter wouldn’t let Paula promote the shows.”
Board member Maureen Sullivan questioned Toback on why Ohaus was expected to be on top of every aspect of the production, from selling tickets to filing paperwork, when the football coach has an Athletic Director (A.D.) to handle such issues. Ohaus asked A.D. Mo DeGennaro about the number of athletes who play sports at HHS. He said about 250 individuals participated in the athletics program. It was noted that the yearly athletic budget is $700,000, compared with $36,000 for “Hairspray,” which had 120 students involved (another 100, including children from the primary schools, are expected to participate in “Alice.”)
The show also took in $12,000 in ticket sales. Most athletic events are sparsely attended and collect little if any revenue.
Markle – who’s son played football and baseball at Hoboken High – said comparing the musical with the sports program was comparing “apples with oranges.” She was met with a chorus of boos.
That’s the way much of the evening went for the Markle/Minutillo majority and its supporters. Toback was to meet with Ohaus again Wednesday to iron out some issues.
Patricia Waiters, an independent candidate for school board, broke some of the tension in the room when she charged the microphone while Toback was speaking and offered to be an intermediary between the parties.
President Markle has a tendency to delay the release of information to the public that doesn’t suit her politically. Critics say she may secretly order last week’s meeting not be shown on Channel 77 until after the Board of Education election.