IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING: Paul Pastorek Will Bring a New Disaster to Puerto Rico

Apparently, the Department of Education in Puerto Rico did not get the memo. You know, the one that makes it clear that the so-called education reform that took place in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the one led by Paul Pastorek, failed.

They obviously don’t know or understand the harm that has been done to public education and the students it serves in this city after schools were hijacked in the wake of the 2005 storm.

Clearly, no one has informed them 13 years after “reform” came to NOLA that only six schools out of more than 70 campuses are performing as well as schools were before the storm.

They simply cannot know that 68 of these campuses are performing so poorly that they would have been taken over by the state even before to Hurricane Katrina based on their school performance scores below 87.4.

They just can’t know the truth.

Of course, the mode of operandi for Paul Pastorek and his sort is to go in when a people and a place are at their most vulnerable. Some 266 public schools across Puerto Rico—more than 20 percent of the schools operated by the department— closed in the wake of the Hurricane Maria. When some schools reopened in the fall of 2018, the student population had dwindled by more than 40,000; they were short-staffed and faced budget woes. So it was probably easy for Pastorek to blow into Puerto Rico with some smoke and mirrors and convince folk there that he is the right guy to lead the way. Hell, he managed to convince just about every one else in the continental United States that he and his buddies were working some sort of miracle in New Orleans even though it was clear to just about anyone who could add, subtract and read that claims of success in the education reform movement in NOLA were about as bogus as Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, a leprechaun and his pot o’ gold.

We know why Pastorek wants to get a foothold in Puerto Rico. Despite all of the issues it is facing right now more than a year after Maria, Puerto Rico’s DOE is still the government’s largest executive agency. It still serves more than 300,000 students. And all of that means MONEY!

But why would anyone in the Puerto Rican government invite him? We understand that these are desperate times; but trust us, this is way too desperate of a measure.

In the end though, that’s all we got—either a lack of knowledge or utter desperation. Those are the only explanations we can come up with to help us come to understand why Puerto Rico’s DOE would enter into a contract with Pastorek to remove disaster debris off of a school playground, let alone to help restore and rebuild public education. Have education officials in Puerto Rico actually been duped into thinking that Paul Pastorek is some sort of proven leader when it comes to education? It’s either that or they know the truth and just don’t care. To be honest, Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher, with her credentials and experience, does not strike us as someone who doesn’t pay attention to what has and is happening in education. Still, either way, someone please say it isn’t so!

Plenty of media outlets have matter-of-factly reported the news about Pastorek’s Puerto Rico contract. But we see another disastrous tragedy in the making. And how does that catchy little saying go? You know the one intended to urge every day citizens to be more aware of what’s happening around them and not afraid to report suspicious and unlawful activity because it just might save lives.

“If you see something, say something.”

Yes, that’s it!

Well, SOMETHING. . . SOMETHING. . . SOMETHING. . . SOMETHING . . . SOMETHING!

WE HAVE SEEN IT

Anyone uncertain of what will happen when Pastorek and his cronies work to “save” public education in Puerto Rico need only recall what has happened in New Orleans.

He will come and will turn over every public school in Puerto Rico to some charter management outfit, giving them control of facilities and budgets. The charter groups will appoint board members that do not have to answer to the voters of Puerto Rico. Parents, students and true education advocates will be shut out of the process.

Veteran educators will be dismissed. Teach for America recruits, happy to have their student loans paid off, will swoop down on the island for a couple of years with zero experience and training in teaching, using poor Puerto Rican students as little more than guinea pigs in an experiment. Ill-equipped and unprepared for the task, after a two years, most will leave just as quickly as the came.

The good news is that all kinds of private funding will inundate education in Puerto Rico. It will come from Broad and Walton and Gates and other billionaires and their foundations. The bad news is it will not be used to support or improve traditional public schools. No, no, no. This money will be for “innovation” and “reform”. In other words, it will used to create more charter schools. And the U.S. Department of Education will probably get in on the action as well, shelling out federal tax dollars through innovation grants and its school charter program. To be sure, education is Puerto Rico will become a most lucrative endeavor. CEOs will replace principals and command six-figure salaries, while teachers earn next to nothing and are discouraged, if not forbidden, from unionizing.

Political and community leaders across Puerto Rico will take note, too. They will realize that a great way to get on the good side of a multi-billion dollar organization that can write hefty checks for political campaigns or other personal endeavors is to support, promote and otherwise push charter schools and a fake reform even if that means ignoring the truth and thumbing their noses at the students, parents, veteran educators, tax payers and voters of Puerto Rico, which will be even easier to do when because many of them ado not depend on the public system for the education of their own children. Much like New Orleans, many with the wherewithal to do so have already divested from public education in Puerto Rico, opting to send their children to private and parochial schools. They won’t have to jump through hoops to get a coveted spot in one of a handful of top-performing campuses. Nor will they be forced to cross their fingers every fall and hope their kid just isn’t assigned to a school that is an abysmal failure. So if their complicity leaves the system in shambles, who is really getting hurt here except poor, Brown and Black communities that depend on public education as the first step toward better lives.

Yes, get ready for years of double talk, lies and muddied narratives. Puerto Rican lawmakers and education officials will change laws and tinker with performance scores to hide the failure of the so-called reform. All the while, corporate entities disguised as havens for education will rake in big bucks. Parents, teachers, taxpayers and students will increasingly get ignored, marginalized and disenfranchised.

By the way, if you’re in Puerto Rico with any construction experience now would be a good time to put together a company and get in good with the reformers. They will soon start handing out multi-million dollar contracts to build dozens of sub-par buildings.

We’re betting that just before his contract ends, Pastorek will somehow position himself to become the top executive for Puerto Rico’s DOE. He’s done that before, you know. The New Orleans attorney, who holds no teaching credentials or degrees in education and at one time served as general counsel for NASA—which is impressive, we guess—but has nothing to do with K-12 public education leadership, managed to convince the Louisiana Board of Education that he was the right choice to become state superintendent. If he manages to slide his way into Puerto Rico’s DOE as more than a consultant, get your popcorn, sit back and watch. Actually, no don’t do that.

Because if and when that happens, it will be the really bad news. Pastorek will start saying real slick stuff like well, let’s define what “local control” looks like. In fact, he will do more than say it. He will make it policy like he did here with the stroke of a pen and a rubber stamp from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Recall how he ensured that original policy to return a failing school to local control after five years disappeared as if it were never the rule at all. Trust us on this. Several years ago, before he resigned from the Louisiana DOE, Pastorek told The New Orleans Tribune that “local control” never meant the return to the local elected school board as far as he was concerned. And despite what you may have been led to believe regarding the “reunification” of school in New Orleans, it still does not.

Each of these independent, quasi-private operations still control their own budgets, facilities and operations with little oversight from the Orleans Parish School Board or its superintendent, none of whom appear to be exactly committed to overseeing public education in the first place. This is why we find ourselves in 2018, 13 years after public education in New Orleans was hijacked, with only six public schools out of 74 performing as well as schools did before Hurricane Katrina.

We know how this story goes. That’s why we’re saying SOMETHING.

Pastorek will do his damage and then get bored…but before that he will tap some fresh face armed with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in history or fine arts and a TFA certificate to replace him as a top education leader in Puerto Rico.

Mr. Pastorek will go on to bigger and better things. Maybe Trump will tap him to be general counsel of the Space Force.

And Black and brown children in Puerto Rico will be stuck in schools performing even worse than the did before Hurricane Maria.

Yes, we see SOMETHING. And that SOMETHING is surely wrong.

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