Union Leader at Murry Bergtraum Asks Teachers: Tell Us How You Really Feel

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Every year for the last three, John Elfrank-Dana, a social studies teacher and union chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, has conducted a survey of the staff in his building. A State of the School, of sorts, the survey asks teachers and others about safety, job satisfaction and whether the struggling school has improved.

This year, 72 staff members, about a third of the faculty, responded, and Mr. Elfrank-Dana shared the results. They paint a picture of a school where a majority of those surveyed reported that the hallways were out of control, the city's discipline code was not being followed and they had lost confidence in the principal's ability to improve school safety.

The city's Department of Education conducts its own school environment survey every year, and teachers responded similarly last school year, giving the school an F.

In Mr. Elfrank-Dana's survey, 60 teachers said they disagreed with the statement "I feel the city discipline code is enforced for student infractions and misbehavior," and 53 disagreed with the statement "the principal will be able to increase school safety and improve tone."

"We don't have leadership in this building that the adults in this building feel confident in for maintaining safety and security and leading us in the event of a crisis," Mr. Elfrank-Dana said. "It's a resounding vote of no confidence."

3:44 p.m. | Updated Andrea Lewis became Murry Bergtraum's principal in 2010, agreeing to take the difficult post as part of a city program that offers principals extra money in exchange for leading struggling schools.

On Friday, Ms. Lewis said that Mr. Elfrank-Dana was distributing the survey to personally attack her.

"There's 200 people in this building and and clearly there are disgruntled people here," she said. "My staff and I work very hard to move this school."

Ms. Lewis said that complaints that she does not report violent incidents were untrue. The school is missing an assistant principal of security, she said, because the person who had this position is ill. But she maintained that the school is a safe place to be.

"I would be the first person to reach out to somebody if it was out of control," she said.

Teachers' concerns about safety at Murry Bergtraum have been heightened in recent years. Last year, hundreds of students staged a riot, stampeding through the school's hallways after Ms. Lewis limited bathroom access.

According to Mr. Elfrank-Dana, there have been a few out-of-control events, but on a smaller scale, as well as constant complaints from teachers that students are bullying or shoving them, but many of the incidents have gone unreported because of fear that it could tarnish the school's reputation and lead to its closing.

The informal survey also asked staff members for their opinions on credit recovery, the practice of giving students credit for classes they failed if they complete make-up assignments. Like many of the city's other high schools, Murry Bergtraum allows students to recoup these credits by taking online courses. Fifty-two staff members disagreed with the statement that credit recovery "is meaningful and contributes to genuine student achievement."