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NEW YORK NEW YORK – Barbadian teachers saved by the bell

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK – Barbadian teachers saved by the bell

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HAVING DROPPED THE BALL on the heads of hundreds of Barbadian, Jamaican and other Caribbean teachers, the Bloomberg administration in New York, with the help of the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, has picked it up.
And that’s good news for the Bajan classroom professionals facing the sharp edges of the mayor’s budget axe.
Both sides of the contentious teacher layoff issue have reached a last-minute deal, which has saved the jobs of 4 100 teachers, some of whom were recruited a decade ago from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, and their neighbours. For the West Indians it wasn’t simply a matter of being out of work. If the proverbial sword of Damocles had fallen, they would have been forced to leave the United States after serving the city well for years.
The agreement will cut classroom sizes to a respectable level, especially in low-income neighbourhoods where many Bajans, Jamaicans and Trinidadians live in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
The nightmare facing the West Indians was an unnecessary double whammy. If their immigration status had been cleared up long ago they would not have found themselves at the mercy of an uncaring system which broke almost every promise made to them years ago.
When they first arrived they had to wait weeks before they received the promised housing assistance. Then they were categorized as “unskilled” workers.
At the heart of the problem is the issue of the visas for the teachers. They were given the J-1 and the E-Bs visas, usually set aside for exchange visitors who can work for two years. They should have received was the H-1B visa, which would allow their families to remain in the country and eventually become green card holders.
Fortunately, Denis Walcott, a public official with Bajan roots is sitting in the Chancellor’s chair, a position which is the equivalent of the Barbados Minister of Education.
He has already moved swiftly to end an injustice, the practice of giving school principals the authority to issue immigration job performance letters to the teachers in their schools. An “unsatisfactory” rating by a principal could lead to termination, which in turn can mean deportation. That leaves the West Indians at the mercy of principals, some of whom were opposed to their recruitment from the get-go and have used the “letter” to get rid of them. It’s as bad as that.
By placing the preparation of assessments where it belongs, in the hands of Department officials themselves, Walcott has levelled the playing field, giving the teachers a fair chance of receiving an objective evaluation.
That explains why the Black Institute’s Bertha Lewis has lavishly praised Walcott.