THE SCHOOL year will draw to a close shortly.
It was a banner year for great educators. Unfortunately, it was dominated by members of the profession who bring embarrassment to teaching (I call them "edu-crats"). It was a close contest, but I've settled on my top three edu-crats of the year.
Taking the bronze are New Jersey Education Association officials. They've engaged in a bitter war with Gov. Christie over salaries, health benefits and pensions. They often cite their need to protect the educational opportunities of kids as their motivation in their public fights with the governor.
But I think this is often a cynical ploy. My best evidence is a recent incident involving NJEA officials and members and parochial school students at a committee hearing in Trenton for the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which provides money to students in low-performing districts to go to a private school.
The Star-Ledger reports and NJEA President Keshishian verified on my show that while students were outside demonstrating for the bill, NJEA members took over every seat in the hearing room. Students tried to enter, but only a limited number were allowed to stand.
Committee chairman Ray Lesniak asked the NJEA to give up half the seats. They refused. Keshishian told me that if the kids wanted seats, they shouldn't have been outside demonstrating. So Lesniak moved the meeting outside - and voted in favor of the bill.
Teachers demand that students exhibit basic respect in the classroom, and rightfully so. What message does this incident send to these kids? Remember this when you hear these edu-crats play the "for the children" card.
My silver medal edu-crats are the administrators from the Highland Park School District near Chicago for denying their girls basketball team the right to play in a major national tournament to be held in Arizona. They said they feared for the girls' safety due to Arizona's new immigration law, yet they allow and encourage their students to go on trips to China.
Their mantra seems to be China good, Arizona bad. They are committing one of the edu-crats' cardinal sins - using kids to advance their personal agendas.
My gold medal winner is uncertified former South Philadelphia High School principal La Greta Brown, who let an atmosphere develop at the school that resulted in a day of racial violence on Dec. 3. Seven Asian students were sent to the hospital.
She capped her performance by resigning from the school when the Inquirer found that her certification as a principal was inactive because she had not fulfilled the requirement for continuing education. One legacy of her thankfully short tenure is a federal lawsuit on the behalf of the Asian students. It's yet to be decided, but it's clear that the school didn't protect many Asian kids and did little to stop daily harassment of them.
South Philadelphia High also gives us my bronze educator of the year. Dean Coder, a union rep and math teacher, has been a frequent critic (on my show and elsewhere) of the atmosphere created by Principal Brown that led to the racial violence.
A GREAT teacher looks after the interests of all students. Coder spoke up, despite the career risks. In my book, he's a great teacher.
My silver educator of the year is Erlene Bass Nelson, a retired Philadelphia kindergarten teacher who spent 51 years in the classroom. This year, she was named to the National Teachers Hall of Fame. I've interviewed Erlene and found her to be an extremely caring and nurturing person. She's a shining example of why teaching is such a special profession. I also interviewed a rep from the hall of fame, and I'm glad that spectacular teachers are finally being honored in a very public way.
Finally, my gold-medal winner is Frankford High School teacher Wilma Stephenson, a model of tough love who uses culinary arts to reach kids who face significant challenges. She was the subject of a documentary and featured on the "Rachael Ray Show." She got Ray to outfit her teaching kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment to reach more kids.
I don't know if Stephenson's students will become chefs, but they'll be better people because they had the good fortune to be taught by an all-star teacher.