Jeanne Sager | Democrat
Evan Yavne with "Mouse Cat"
For Monticello Teacher: First Praise, Then Dismissal
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO April 20, 2007 A year ago, Evan Yavne’s bosses credited his intellectual capacity and caring for his students for his success. Last month, the eighth grade English teacher was fired by bosses in the Monticello Central School District who say he’s “ineffective” and “weak.”
All Yavne wants to know is: what happened?
“In light of their summation, they basically assessed I have no redeeming features whatsoever,” he said with a sigh.
Not so fast.
A look at the raw scores from the state tests administered in English language arts to students at Robert J. Kaiser Middle School (RJK) show the kids in Yavne’s classes were among the highest achievers in the school.
Yavne teaches 1/3 of the regular education English students at RJK a total of 72 students.
This year, 50 percent of the regular education students earning a level 4 on the state exam the highest possible score have been under Yavne’s tutelage for the past year.
By comparison, not one student in Yavne’s English courses scored a level 1, the lowest score on the test.
At a board of education meeting shortly before spring break, RJK Principal Deborah Wood stood up to present the scores. She said she was proud, proud of the teachers who helped make it happen.
But Wood signed off on the summation that effectively ended Yavne’s career in the Monticello district.
The summary signed by Wood and Interim Assistant Principal Jason Doyle says Yavne has “not satisfactorily improved his teaching pedagogy.”
It calls Yavne’s instructional delivery “unacceptable,” noting he “consistently lacks a stimulating beginning activity, is teacher-centered and… presents his lessons through a traditional lecture format demonstrating little evidence of differentiated instruction, best practices or cooperative learning activities.”
Ironically, a December observation by Doyle reveals the opposite.
“A well-paced, differentiated and engaging lesson was presented,” Doyle wrote. “A friendly, non-confrontational instructional delivery was observed which resulted in active student engagement.”
Doyle made suggestions as did every observer who wrote up a report on Yavne in the past two years. But he summed up his December review surmising Yavne has the makings of a “master teacher.”
“To lose Mr. Yavne, I think is a tremendous disservice,” said Laura Thompson. “I can’t for the life of me understand how they justify it.”
Thompson’s son Matthew Daitsman was bullied from the day they moved into the district, she said. He withdrew. His grades slipped.
Then Yavne stepped in.
He pulled aside the “ring leader,” and made it clear that picking on a smaller kid wasn’t going to be tolerated.
Yavne said he built a rapport with the bully too although he was doing poorly in other classes, he earned one of the Level 4s on the ELA test.
Daitsman, meanwhile, turned around.
“He just needed to realize it was a good thing to be smart,” Thompson said of her son. “Mr. Yavne made him realize his own expectations.
“As a parent, there’s only so much you can do,” she continued. “Especially at that age. It’s a very difficult age, it’s so horrible, and they’re so mean to each other, they’re vicious.
“But he relates so well to the kids,” Thompson said of Yavne.
June Lombardi calls Yavne inspiring and motivating.
Her daughter, Marina, felt secure in Yavne’s class last year and she said she’s one of the lucky parents to really hear from her daughter.
“My daughter, when you ask how her day was, she gives me a dissertation,” Lombardi said. “If there had been a problem, I’d have been the first to know.”
Marina said Yavne’s class was anything but teacher-centric.
“He didn’t just stand there and lecture us and say ‘here’s the notes, copy them down,’” she said.
“He really taught us things we’ll be able to use as adults even if we don’t study English,” Marina continued. “He helped me to better understand what I was learning, and I think he did that with a lot of kids.
“Our test scores totally prove that,” she added. “We saw him when he was just learning, and I thought he was amazing.”
Her views were echoed by parents and students alike.
Nancy Ference and husband Tom have both been in education for more than 20 years him as a teacher, her as a teacher and school psychologist.
They’re also parents who spend a lot of time at Monticello school functions.
They always see Yavne there not something that can be said of every teacher.
He supports his students, Nancy said, both inside the classroom and out.
Yavne made the Ferences’ daughter, Charlotte, realize her own potential.
He made her write, rewrite and rewrite again and again, Nancy said.
She wasn’t penalized in her grades, but she was forced to really earn them, she noted.
“An A from him means something,” said Colleen Cunningham.
Cunningham’s daughter Colleen has learned “the words she uses can really have an impact,” from Yavne.
“He told the parents he wasn’t teaching to the test,” Cunningham noted. “He was of the opinion that if they could read and comprehend, they could do any test.”
Yavne explained the breakdown of the state exam 26 points are earned via multiple choice, two essays account for another 5 points each, and there are 3 points awarded for mechanics.
Yavne said he reversed the traditional preparation for the test which focused on the 26-point block. He went for the three points.
If the kids could understand the mechanics, they could comprehend what they were reading they would have the tools to earn the other 36 points.
“Even though that’s only 3 points, in fact that’s the flag, and if you get the flag, you win the game,” he explained.
Test scores proved him right, he said. The kids who got the 3 points also got the 26.
So why was he let go?
“The tables actually started going south last year,” he recalled.
When he intervened on Daitsman’s behalf, Yavne started lunching with the teen’s friends to keep an eye on bullying.
He broke up a fight in the cafeteria between two girls because he was there.
It reflected badly on the administrator who had cafeteria duty, and Yavne said he got yelled at.
The administrator wrote him up twice after that once for pulling out a knife to cut pizza (which he’d purchased as a reward for high achievement) in front of his students.
The second was equally ridiculous, he said.
A former filmmaker, Yavne said he’d get questions from his students about his past.
One asked if he made porn. Yavne answered truthfully: “no.”
“But eighth graders being eighth graders, a rumor spread that I made porno movies,” Yavne said, shaking his head.
“That I directed them,” he added with a grin. “I hope they weren’t saying that I starred in them!”
Yavne was admonished for allegedly telling the students he made porn. He filed a grievance with the union and successfully had the allegation pulled from his personnel file.
The reprimands were characteristic of the way administration at RJK works, he said.
And last year, he was warned.
A former staff member told him, “I don’t know what you did, but [former Assistant Principal Al] Heins and Wood are gunning for you,” Yavne related.
Then Doyle did a 180, from a positive report to signing the summation that ended Yavne’s career.
If he was really such a bad teacher, Yavne said he wants to know why no one stepped in earlier.
If he was doing badly, shouldn’t someone have lent a helping hand to ensure his students weren’t being underserved, he asked.
No one did, and yet the students came out with high test scores, he said.
“I had no idea I was such a disaster,” Yavne said, his eyes twinkling. “I thought I was doing pretty well!”
RJK is a school that claims to teach accountability, Yavne said.
“This screams in the face of accountability,” he noted. “It screams in the face of the numbers and the parents…
“This could be a really humiliating experience for me,” he continued, “but I know it doesn’t jive.”
Yavne said he knows he can’t get a job using a reference from Monticello although he has glowing references from the administrator of the school where he taught for two years in the South Bronx and from the folks at Sullivan County Community College where he spent two years teaching English.
What he wants is an explanation.
“If [Deborah Wood] had simply said, ‘You told us if we said it wasn’t love, you’d walk, and we’re saying it isn’t love,’ it would be one thing,” he said. “But they’re saying I’m lousy at this, and I’m not lousy at this.”
As for the school they had nothing to say.
Wood referred calls to Superintendent Dr. Pat Michel.
Michel said it’s a personnel issue, and he can’t legally respond.
He said the final say in who is fired by the district is his and he said he does take test scores into consideration.
Parents of Yavne’s students disagree.
“I feel there is a quality education to be had [in Monticello] but as of late there seems to be a downward spiral,” said Kerri D’Abbraccio. “Parents aren’t being listened to… [Yavne’s firing] just doesn’t make sense, unless there’s something personal going on.”