Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Science Evermore?

The Bronx Science I knew from 1999 to May, 2003 to the Bronx Science that awaited me on Homecoming, October 2003 were nothing alike. I'm afraid to go back and see what happened to the place. Reading this today justifies that fear.

Entering Science in 1999, I was upset because I didn't want to go to a specialized science high school, emphasis on the "science." Being a humanities-driven person like myself, I envisioned myself attending Townsend Harris, but being stuck on the waiting list stopped me. And I really didn't want to go to my zoned high school.

At the time, Stanley Blumenstein was principal and all was well. Bronx Science was the picture of New York City high school life—students took more required classes than your average NYC high school student, kids would lounge and play in the campus out front or the handball courts in the back or on Harris Field where more than not, illicit indulging occured, students could even leave school and take the 4 or the D train, if time permitted it. I was excited about high school and managed to carve my own path, focusing on yearbook and creative writing.

Then Blumenstein retired
and that's where this story starts. Then, William Stark became Acting Principal as the NYC Board of Education looked for a new principal, though Stark was good enough. But the Chancellor was set on getting a big name as principal, preferably a Nobel Prize winner, but failed to do so. Stark, by the end of this, already moved into a more secure position. Because of the need for a new principal, then-Biology professor Valerie Reidy got the position. It was with then that Bronx Science began its transformation for the worse.

Under Blumenstein's and Stark's watch, Bronx Science had a relaxed atmosphere. The students were smart, they knew how to take care of themselves. The school had an open campus, so students were free to roam the wild and tame streets of Bedford, Bronx. Sure, kids cut classes all the time (myself included), but everyone still managed to do well in school.

There was nothing wrong with the system.

Then, along came Reidy during my senior year at Science. I don't rememeber the exact chronology, but there were mandatory ID checks at the cafeteria before entering the school. Those students who arrived late were had to wait inside the cafeteria instead of going to their classes. During Halloween and St. Patrick's Day, we were confined to the building. If we were let loose, we'd wreak havoc outside, or something like that. Shoulder-baring tops were highly disapproved of. During my senior year, as co-layout editor of the Observatory, Science's yearbook, I had to deal with the Letter from the Principal. Reidy poured over the letter throughout the year. We went through pages and pages of proofs. Finally, when the entire book went to bed, Reidy found a grammatical error and insisted on printing exact replicas of our design for that page with the correction as stickers. She handed them out during graduation rehearsal and asked us to replace our previous letter. No one did this. I think I still have that sticker somewhere here.

After graduating and being a college student for three months, my friends and I visited Bronx Science on Homecoming, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and oh my, how it changed. In the lobby of the building, underneath the giant science mural, were television screens. To be more accurate, they were security screens. In less than a year, Reidy set up security cameras all through campus and you could watch the entire show in the lobby. Yep. What she wanted was control of the students, of New York City's brightest, and that's exactly what she received.

In defiance to Reidy, students and teachers called her Dr. Quack. The moniker stems from the honorary PhD Reidy received from her alma mater, which gave her cause to add the suffix Dr. to her name. Instead, students and teachers alike opted to call her "Dr. Quack." Because he helped spread the word, Dr. Bob Drake, a chemistry teacher at Science (I never had him) was fired. I believe Dr. Mel Maskin (I was a horrible student in his class, but I appreciate his teaching methods) also left Science because of Reidy. How will the administration, or rather Reidy, respond to this? How will the Board of Education respond to it? Hopefully, the Chancellor will see that Reidy is too much of a polarizing figure for Bronx Science. Once teachers are being fired and resigning over your presence, it's pretty much time for you to move on, isn't it? Maybe the Chancellor should take up his search for a Nobel laureate as principal—there is no doubt he or she would be a better choice.

Just to note, famous Science alumni: for Jon: William Safire graduated in 1947. For Josh, Jon Favreau in 1984 and Scott Ian in 1982. And yeah, there were many Nobel Prize-winning graduates, editors and reporters (there's hope for me), Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Freedom Tower (don't get me started on that) and many, many more.

[Title stems from the Bronx Science alma mater song.]


Viktastic said...

I knew about most of the famous alumni but didn't know about William Safire. I used to read his column on language all the time in the new yorker.
- Vikki Rai

Bob said...

Ms. Reidy started calling herself "Dr." -- her secretary answered her phone "Dr. Reidy's Office" -- after receiving an honorary degree from her alma mater, the College of Mt. St. Vincent. Since a "quack" is a person calling her-/himself a doctor w/o credentials, I was prompted to start a "No Quack" campaign when she started attacking me by putting "U" ratings in my file, and removed me as a college mentor for "dereliction of duty," an impossible charge for those who know my work ethic. She told me, "We can do it the easy way or the hard way but I will win." In NYC that is all too true, so now I use my 34 year of experience to teach in CT for twice the money.

dylan said...

Screw ms reidy and her nazi regime. im going to bronxscience right now and it is hell. we have to check in with these stupid idcards and if we lose them we have to shell out 2 dollars. also there are cameras everywhere and each week she comes up with a new rule that further restricts are activities in the hall (for example no sitting in the hallways when waiting for the bell to ring). but then she cant enforce it. she also keeps being this stupid useless technology to moniter us while were stuck with crap textbooks.

J said...

It's gotten even worse in the 2008-2009 year. A new policy was implemented that gives out five deans' detentions for failing to scan in in the morning. A few days after the policy was implemented, I swiped twice (the first failed). With the light indicating that the second swipe had registered, I continued walking. The person observing the monitor failed to tell me that in actuality, it had not registered. The next day in homeroom, I receive my first (five!) detentions dated from the previous day, with no other alternative but to serve them after school.

We also now have to scan in EVERY time we enter the building, under the premise of "preventing intruders."

Newer and newer teachers are being hired as well (fresh out of college). Not to say they aren't capable teachers, but no doubt they were hired primarily for their inexperience with the school system - the ease of control that results from that.

I await the new security implementations in the 2009-2010 school year with bated breath. Who knows? Perhaps some backscatter x-ray machines? Pat downs? Or maybe strip searches in the nurse's office while Big Broth- I mean, Reidy, watches through a camera.

peter.borock said...

This is sad. I am a Science Alum '04 and am now a Teach For America Corps Member, where I teach History in the South Bronx. Needless to say I can see both sides of the situation.

To see Dr. Maskin go is just sad. He is the reason I am in teaching, and I know that he inspired us in ways newer teachers (such as myself) can only try to.

I was present during the first Reidy years, and dealt was quite disgusted with her attitude. Further, I see many colleagues in other schools being hired simply because they lack tenure, so they can be bullied and bossed around. The system is truly in shambles.

That said, I my teacher side of me does realize why cameras might be installed, yet this does not in any way, shape or form provide justification for teacher harassment. Reidy is trying to rebuild Science's reputation, but is doing everything but.

WentzUCaMe said...

OMG, I'm going to bronx science for high school in September 2010! I'm really scared now. You see, I go to a catholic school right now and I was surprised I got in! I actually wanted to go to LaGuardia :(, but i didn't get in. Is she mean to the students too? I'm probably going to feel so stupid compared to the other students. She'll probably expel me or something..... I'm scared. I hope she doesn't come back for my freshmen year...omg. i am so going to die. omg. she just came this year? or 2008? or earlier?

Bob said...

Slow down. Many students not particularly interested in science go to Bronx Science. Chances are you will never see Ms. Reidy except on special occasions. Despite teacher attrition there are still a lot of excellent, dedicated teachers there. As soon as you need help in a subject, seek it. Do not wait. If your teacher is not in the office, ask a teacher who is. There will be a lot of work. Schedule your day, leaving time for a walk or run. Plan on having one weekend day free, no more. Join clubs. Friends you make there may have had the course you are having trouble with, and may be willing to share old notes and quizzes. Enjoy yourself. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

Bronx Science remains the most asked about thing on my CV, more than my Harvard or Columbia degrees.

To fault Ms. Reidy for somewhat excessive security measures in the post-Columbine, et al, world is unfair and naive.

I was far too busy to care one way or another, to be frank.

Alex said...

Wow... How things have changed..
I graduated in 2002 and I spent my senior year in Dr. Maskin's AP World History class. Today, I am finishing up my PhD (a real one) at Rutgers and I attribute this opportunity to Dr. Maskin and other BXHS teachers that made us work hard and think free. There was no dress code, no swipe cards, no security cameras, we were free to go wherever and do whatever. It's sad to see these traditions fade away as BXHS fades into the public school system.