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As many educators returned to school to set up classrooms this week, so did I. Had things been different with logic and rational playing a role, I would be upgrading my STEM Lab to all the new latest and greatest programs to teach my middle school students. Being that I am still reassigned, and in the “rubber room”, the classroom I went to set up was that of my wife’s. She is 8 months pregnant and we anxiously await our second son. Moving boxes and books is not something that is easy for her these days.

As I followed her instructions of “Move these books here“, “Move these desks there” etc it dawned on me and it was as if I was fell through a wormhole and traveled to that same exact room seven years ago. Only seven years ago I was wearing construction boots, had a hard hat and a reflective orange vest. That is when thoughts of teaching first started.

You see back in June 2005 I was assigned, as an environmental inspector, to the Verrazano Bridge a few blocks from the school. I would  oversee a multi-million dollar blasting and painting job and being a teacher was not even a thought in my head. The contractor was sand blasting old lead based paint into a dust and prepping the bridge for a new coat. I would oversee the work and make sure the lead dust was not emitted into the air out of the containments and debris would not fall into the water.

 

During lunch, I would head over a couple of blocks to my fiance’s school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. As I sat in the very same room, I was just recently setting up this week, I would look around at student work and sheets of information hanging all around. I would listen to my wife and her colleagues discuss work and started thinking to myself “Wow…teaching must be the most noble of professions. To take knowledge and transfer it to young minds and sculpt and mold these minds should be applauded. I remember some awesome teachers I had in public school.” I didnt’ know it then, but a small spark had ignited in me.

As the weeks continued, school ended and my fiance was ready to go to Greece to prepare for our wedding in July. At some point I found myself under the roadway of the Verazanno Bridge, hard hat, vest and a safety harness. I was walking on a bouncy chainlink fence that was there to prevent a 150+ foot drop into NY Harbor. I was on a 12 hr shift and was having a life altering moment. I thought “This job pays well and I’m helping the environment and ensuring the safety of the public but is this my calling?” As I bounced around on this safety net and these thoughts were bouncing around my head, I saw the tall, green steeple of my wife’s school in the distance. That is when the spark really ignited. “Maybe I can teach” I thought. “I love science. Maybe I can be one of those cool science teachers that does experiments in front of the class. Maybe since the US lacks engineers, I can share my education from Polytechnic University and they too will become engineers.

Fast forward 2 years. I’m married and we are in our beautiful new home. I had taken classes at Brooklyn college after work as well as student taught while taking night shifts inspecting. I squeezed in some online classes and was ready to make the big leap. I remember finding some Excel file on the DOE website with all the schools in NYC. I grabbed it, sorted it and found all the middle school principal’s information on Staten Island. I emailed them all my resume and waited. I remember meeting with Principal Linda Hill at Berta Dreyfus IS 49, my own community school. “Environmental engineer?” she asked. “You do know that you will be making a lot less money teaching, right?” My W2, the prior year, was about $74,000, from what I remember. Starting salary for a teacher who had not completed their masters was about $48,000. Most sane people, who just got married and are starting a new life, do not take that jump. Remember I said “sane”.

Have you done your homework on our school?” she asked. “Yes.” I replied “but these are the students who I want to work with and can use my help.” I had a potential job waiting for me at MS 51 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I remember I was shocked when I saw schooldigger.com had Dreyfus ranked something like 750 out of 900 middle schools in NY state. Very far from #1. We had work to do.

As luck and fate would have it, a technology teacher retired suddenly over the summer. As I was preparing to come in and teach science, another tech teacher, Matthew Valia, asked Princpal Hill, “What about Mr. Portelos? He is an engineer. He can teach Scantek instead.

…AND THERE YOU HAVE IT. What if I was assigned to a different bridge and didn’t have lunch at my wife’s school? What if there was no opening at IS 49 when I was looking for a job? I know one thing for sure…you, the reader, would not be at this site as it would probably not have existed. DOE legal would not be building a case against me. Several employees would not be under investigation and over a 1,000 students would not have experienced this type of education.

Let’s see what happens…..

From: Francesco Portelos <fportelos@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Aug 26, 2012 at 9:53 AM
Subject: An Educator’s Appeal
To: DMWalcott@schools.nyc.gov, mbloomberg@cityhall.nyc.gov, panel@schools.nyc.gov, eclaudi@schools.nyc.gov, DROSE@council.nyc.gov, joddo@council.nyc.gov, Ignizio@council.nyc.ny.us, Governor.Cuomo@exec.ny.gov, THernandez5 <THernandez5@schools.nyc.gov>, RJackson <RJackson@council.nyc.gov>, SpeakerQuinn <SpeakerQuinn@council.nyc.gov>, ibattin@schools.nyc.gov, gquinn2@schools.nyc.gov, NYSAssembly60@gmail.com, mg@mail.house.gov, Linda Hill <LHill2@schools.nyc.gov>, Gordon Andrew <agordon13@schools.nyc.gov>, lbecker@schools.nyc.gov, dbrodsky@schools.nyc.gov, jmckeon3@schools.nyc.gov

Greetings Chancellor Walcott,
I would like to appeal my capricious reassignment from Berta Dreyfus IS 49 (R049) to 8201 Rockaway Blvd., Ozone Park (CFN211). After I left the environmental engineering field and took a $20,000+ cut in salary, I was considered an excellent and effective teacher for 5 years.  I have plenty of documentation from the administration to prove it and some is posted on protectportelos.org. I also have testimonials from the public, parents and students. I have been mentioned in the news in positive articles as well as having my own innovative methods of teaching recently published. I made history by becoming the first person to win a UFT Chapter Leader position while sitting in the “rubber room” for 50 days. The school staff wants me back. I recently filed a US patent for a website I designed and working on a second for an educational e-portfolio site I call fridgework.com. I am also halfway done with my leadership in education class to become a principal or superintendent. Are these qualities not good enough for public education?

What Happened?

  As a taxpayer and community member I brought up issues pertaining to the budget, potential financial misconduct, misappropriation of funds, corporal punishment by an assistant principal and sexual harassment by another assistant principal. Just weeks after my complaints, I was prevented from entering the school building and reassigned to do nothing. That was 123 days ago. 

  Through my own investigation and FOIL requests I have found that criminal activity has taken place at my school and possibly my network office where I was placed. My reward?- An empty cubicle an hour and a half from my family! SCI has about 15 absolutely ridiculous allegations about me they are investigating. They were all made by the 3 people involved in misconduct. I ask you, the mayor, PEP and the politicians copied in this email to help rectify this sad situation.  I received notice that on September 4th I am to return back to an empty cubicle. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t mind getting paid $ 75,000 to sit and play solitaire, but that is not me. By all means let SCI continue their investigation, but there is no reason for me to be out of the classroom especially when none of the allegations are about harming children.

  Unfortunately, I had to bring a federal lawsuit against the DOE and Principal Linda Hill. September 11, 2012 will be our first date in court. The students are not the only ones suffering as my family has been hit hard by this.

Below are just a few of the many comments left on my petition site and blog.

  • Petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/new-york-city-department-of-education-reinstate-mr-portelos-to-the-classroom-and-take-him-out-of-the-rubber-room

  • Nicholas 

    staten island, NY
    1 day ago

    Like0

    Mr.Portelos was one of the best teachers in IS49 who taught me a lot and its sad to see this happen to such a great teacher.

  • 2 days ago

    Like0

    mr. portelos is a great teacher who was only looking out for the school and his students whom he cares about deeply. i don’t want to see the good guy be punished.

  • Lisa 
    Staten Island, NY
    2 days ago

    Like0

    Mr. Portelos was one of the few brilliant educators the school systems have left. He went above and beyond his abilities to help his students in any way he could. He worked after hours on school days just to ensure the education of his students. He had done so many things to help on the behalf of his students and people don’t seize to realize this.

  • Desmond 
    Staten Island, NY
    2 days ago

    Like0

    Mr. Portelos has been an amazing teacher throughout the years I was in IS 49. He always provided fun things to do that were educational and enjoyable for everyone student. He’s one of the best teachers I ever had.

  • Mitchell 
    Staten Island, NY
    2 days ago

    Like0

    Going to I.S. 49 was not the best experience for me. I graduated in 2006 and looking at this video, and hearing from younger friends, I can see that Mr. Portelos is the type of teacher which the school lacked in my years. The same hands-on, enthusiastic class of teacher that I was only lucky to find in later years.

  • Jerrry 
    Staten Island, NY
    2 days ago

    Like0

    Mr. Protelos got his job at IS.49 when I was a student there. He created an environment that made education very fun, thus influencing young students such as myself to be interested in school. He wasn’t just a normal teacher, he was much more. When given the opportunity to become part of the robotics team, he seized it and created an atmosphere that was very inspiring. Being part of the robotics team, we stayed after school countless hours, came during weekends to practice and even traveled to different boroughs to compete. Mr. Protelos was with us the whole way, even using his own pocket money to feed us with pizza parties. He is important to me because he created a very strong foundation for me in a tough school, he made me want to learn and also inspired me.

  • David
    buffalo, NY
    2 days ago

    Like0

    Mr Portelos was the only inspiration in my childhood. I come from a broken home where i needed some sort of acceptance that was not provided in IS49, from being beat up by peers and my father it was hard to find friends. Then i joined the robotics team and went to His classes, I learned a lot about Photoshop and I’m considering taking graphic design He inspired many of his students to work as a team and Progress our leadership skills…. it saddens me that this would happen to my favorite teacher 😦

  • Benjamin 
    Staten Island, NY
    3 days ago

    Like0

    I believe that having quality teachers will impact the way students act and the way their future will turn out.

  • Brendan 
    Staten Island, NY
    3 days ago

    Like0

    Mr.Portelos was my 6th grade tech teacher. I had the best time in school in his class. He was always finding ways to make his class fun and educational. I joined the Robotics team with my brother and he was so helpful to the kids programing and building the robots. He was always a very helpful teacher and very nice to everyone


  • Adesola 

    Staten Island, NY

    daniel 

    STATEN ISLAND, NY
    3 days ago

    Like0

    he is my favorite teacher

  • 3 days ago

    Like0

    I had mr. portelos as a teacher and i dont agree with why he was removed as a teacher from is. 49

  • wendy 
    staten island, NY
    about 1 month ago

    Like1

    Mr. Portelos taught me a lot! science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. This is not fair for him. You will regret this!

  • suja 
    new york city, NY
    3 months ago

    Like0

    because i had him two years ago, he was the best teacher I’ve had for computers. if it wasn’t for him i don’t think i’d be so much in two designing using computers. there should be absolutely no reason this thing should even exist, he is too much of a good teacher.

  • Ismael 
    Staten Island, NY
    3 months ago

    Like0

    Mr. Portelos is the greatest teacher I have ever known. As far as I know he’s the only man in that entire school who has taught us the things we really needed to know to succeed in life. He has made learning something greater, and because he has set such a wonderful standard for us all, we all were motivated by this man to become something more in this world than we could have ever imagined possible. He taught us that anything with possible with the right mind set. He must be re-instated to ensure that I.S. 49’s future students actually learn

  • diamond 
    greensboro, NC
    3 months ago

    Like0

    cuz my bother loved him and he made my bother want to got to school everyday

  • Jocelyn 
    Staten Island, NY
    3 months ago

    Like0

    I’m signing this petition because we miss Mr.Portelos.!!

Morlai Kamara

Staten Island, NY
4 months ago

Like2

In Africa we were thought not ask questions. We were afraid to speak out. Now that I amin the US, the freedom to voice out for what you think is right is being rang on our ears everywhere you go.

I cannot believe that a person should be punished for doing just that. Afterall, Mr Portelos is a roll model, a teacher infront of our children. Even if he is wrong, there should be other methods of redressing this issue.

Please send him back to class to teach our kids, he has been doing a mervelous job.

Maria Valenti-Wagner

Staten Island, NY
4 months ago

Like1

Mr. Portelos is an outstanding educator. I have never met a teacher with as much passion and enthusiasm as he has. My son is one of his current students and he speaks very highly of him and his class; he also misses him and asks when he will be returning. It is a huge shame if our children who currently have him as their STEM teacher and for future students who enter I.S. 40 to lose a teacher like him. Please reinstate Mr. Portelos!

2 thoughts on “7 years- From Class to Bridge to Class to Rubber Room

  1. Too bad the comments from the students cannot be published in the Staten Island Advance! Gent David Thoreau would be turning over in his grave!

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