Brother on the Lesson Plan
former teachers leave Albany charter school Achievement Academy
Sept. 29, my classroom was videotaped without my knowledge
or consent, as well as without my students’ knowledge or consent,
and without their parents’ knowledge or consent,” Ryan Roberts
told the Albany Common Council Monday night during the public-
comment period of its regular meeting. The video camera was
brought into Roberts’ classroom at Achievement Academy Charter
School by the dean of students, she said, hidden in a binder
and covered with a black sweater. The camera was placed in
the back of the room, taping her as she taught. It was her
students who noticed the camera’s red light blinking.
Two days later, Roberts was fired from her job as a social
studies teacher. “These charter schools are receiving taxpayer
funds,” she said, “and as a taxpayer I wonder if they are
following appropriate protocols.”
Roberts contacted Councilman James Sano about the incident,
which led Sano to spend his own time investigating it.
Sano said that he contacted M. Christian Bender, the executive
director of the Brighter Choice Foundation, which supports
Achievement Academy. Sano said that Bender assured him that
the videotaping did not occur, “at all.”
According to Sano, it was difficult at first to figure out
whom to call about the incident. “I don’t get a newsletter
from the charter schools telling me who their board of directors
is. I get stuff all the time from the school district telling
me who to contact in case there is a problem. It was the first
time I have had to deal with the charter school system, and
here as an elected official I can say that it wasn’t difficult.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for a regular citizen.”
This was Roberts’ first full-time teaching job; she had done
a year as the building substitute at Doyle Middle School in
Troy. After getting a few pointers from her new bosses—they
said that she wasn’t being strict enough—she thought she was
living up to her obligations in the classroom. After an in-class
observation by the dean of students, she said, she even received
an e-mail praising her ability to improve based on their critiques.
Carol Connelly, a colleague of Roberts at Achievement Academy,
told Metroland that Roberts was “a great teacher. She
has a great rapport with her students. She has great discipline.
And then her students come into the classroom last week, and
they are all up in arms. I asked them what was wrong, and
they said that she had been fired. I didn’t believe it. I
thought it was absolutely not true.”
Connelly said that her classroom also had been surreptitiously
videotaped. About a month before, the administration had told
the teachers that they were “thinking about purchasing video
cameras,” in the ramp-up for the charter review, she said.
At the end of October, Achievement Academy will be reviewed
by the state to determine whether or not the school’s license
will be renewed for another three or five years.
According to Connelly, the teachers were told that the cameras
likely would be used to record the teachers during classes
for “mentoring purposes, for critique.” However, Connelly
alleged, this was as far as the conversation went. None of
the teachers, nor the students, signed waivers agreeing to
be videotaped after this meeting, and no one was notified
that this was going to be taking place.
I came in from lunch with my students and there was a camera
hidden under a sweater,” she said, sitting in the back of
the room. “I could see the red light blinking. Then the sweater
fell off. The students were saying, ‘I feel violated. You
can’t videotape me without my parental consent.’ ”
Usually, she said, the students would be notified beforehand,
and notices would be sent home to parents to alert them of
is no law, but it is usually school policy,” she continued,
to get these release forms signed for videotaping. When Connelly
brought the issue up with the school’s principal, O’Rita Swan,
she was told by Swan that the students all know that there
are surveillance cameras in the schools. At the beginning
of the year, the parents are informed. Swan claimed, according
to Connelly, that this gave the school the ability to “direct-
camera video them and you.”
that is not the same thing,” argued Connelly, who taught for
nine years in the Bronx for the New York City Department of
Both women are seeking legal counsel.
Swan directed Metroland to Bender, the executive director
of Brighter Choice Foundation and the chairman of the board
for Achievement Academy. Bender said that the taping had been
discussed with the teachers, and that it was in no way secretive.
was taped and one wasn’t,” Bender said. “But they had full
notice. The cameras were not hidden; they were out in the
He said that Roberts was let go for poor performance.
Connelly quit the same day that Roberts was fired. The videotaping
had been the final straw for her. She had been disappointed
with her experience at Achievement, saying that the school
does little in the way of constructive education.
don’t have textbooks. There are no textbooks. They bought
or got free teachers’ editions from McGraw Hill,” she said.
“And at first they were letting us copy on the copier unlimited.
So you have a teacher taking Watership Down and copying
all of it, violating copyright law, and the director of academics
knows that she is doing it.”
Roberts agreed that there were teachers copying full novels
are sending a message to our kids,” Connelly said. “They know
that they don’t have books. That’s not an ethical role model.”
Roberts had only 24 textbooks for 30 students, she said. “I
had to make some students share. But no one could even take
them home at night.”
haven’t had the chance to look into this,” Bender replied.
“I will look into that.”
Achievement Academy, a charter middle school on South Dove
Street, is not like the schools Connelly is used to teaching
in, she said. There are no essays or book reports. She said
that at Achievement, the teachers were expected to teach to
the weekly tests, which are designed to prepare students for
annual state examinations. The weekly tests are based on New
York state’s annual assessment testing, and teachers are expected
to base their lesson plans on preparing students for the state’s
assessment tests. This is the sole way that the students get
their grades, Connelly said.
Connelly said that she was offered bonuses of $3,000 to $4,000
if her students’ test scores increased.
Bender said that merit pay is available, and that test results
are a large part of that calculation.
Roberts agreed with Connelly, saying that the charter school
was primarily interested in preparing students for the state
were essentially teaching the topics that appeared on past
exams,” Roberts said. “Hot topics that are asked every year,
warm topics show up frequently but not on every assessment.”
These topics are the basis for each teachers’ curriculum.
are OK with being held accountable by means of the state test,
and we don’t apologize for this,” Bender said. “It is beyond
my comprehension that a professional would take a job at a
charter school and then complain that the school places a
lot of importance in testing.”
Achievement Academy, their answer is always, ‘We’re charter,
and we don’t have to abide by the same rules,’” Connelly said.
“How do you work under those terms?”
Achievement Academy will be reviewed later this month by the
state to see whether or not the school’s charter will be renewed
and for how long.
try, and fail, to get in front of the WFP voter-fraud scandal
the record, we want it known that the Democratic Party does
not encourage such actions and does not condone such actions,”
said Rensselaer County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Wade.
On Monday, Wade put himself in the awkward position of trying
to deflect the media’s attention away from his own party’s
voter-fraud scandal involving the Working Families Party line
and toward the Democrats’ willing foil, Bob Mirch. Multiple
Democrats have been indicated in an apparent scheme to forge
more than three dozen absentee ballots in the WFP primary.
Wade was joined by a cast of Troy Democrats, including Troy
City Councilmen Clem Campana, John Brown and Gary Galuski,
as well as council candidates Mike LoPorto and Robert Martiniano.
Not present, however, were candidate Kevin McGrath and City
Clerk Bill McInerney, who are both implicated in Mirch’s recent
As has been widely reported, allegations surfaced after the
Sept. 15 primary election that members of the Democratic Party
in Rensselaer County engaged in an extensive operation to
forge dozens of absentee ballots in the WFP primary. Mirch
claims to have been alerted to the alleged fraud the day before
the Primary. He undertook his own investigation and produced
numerous affidavits, which he presented to the district attorney’s
More than 30 of these ballots have since been thrown out by
Judge Michael Lynch.
Wade announced at the midmorning press conference that he
would be turning over affidavits of allegedly damning activity
on the part of Mirch to the special prosecutor in the case,
Trey Smith, in the hope that Smith would expand his current
investigation “across Rensselaer County.”
will provide his office with affidavits of illegal activity
by the Republican Party, specifically the Republican Party’s
chief finger-pointer,” Wade said. “Essentially, to use an
old cliché, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw
The “chief finger-pointer” is, of course, Mirch.
During this year’s primary elections, Wade continued, there
were irregularities in Nassau, Brunswick, Hoosick and Schodack.
“A thorough, objective investigation by a special prosecutor
will unveil a culture of corruption within the county Republican
Next up, Troy City Council President Clem Campana told the
press that “for years, the Department of Public Works has
been a well-oiled political machine.” He added that he receives
phone calls from people who work for the city and feel intimidated
by Mirch. Campana said that they claim they must go along
with his political agenda or suffer retribution. This is an
old accusation against Mirch, one that the Democrats have
tried for years to make stick.
As far as using his influence as the head of DPW for political
gain, the Democrats complain that Mirch forces his employees
and allies to register in the party, and then runs his own
spoiler candidates in the party’s primary—regardless of whether
they agree with or adhere to the basic liberal tenets of the
party—solely to disrupt and confuse what should otherwise
be a solid Democratic Party win.
The most notorious example of this was in 2007, when a full-time
employee of Mirch’s DPW, Chris Consuello, ran for mayor on
the WFP line. The 21-year-old part-time pizza boy’s mother
told Fox News at the time that her son didn’t want to run,
but that “he was put up to go up for election and he was told
that if he didn’t do it, he was going to get fired.”
Consuello has since run on the WFP line for Congress and state
The news conference on Monday didn’t sit well with the press.
Wade didn’t provide copies of the two affidavits that he claimed
he would be turning over to the special prosecutor, and his
allegations, as he presented them, were anemic. Wade claimed
that he wouldn’t turn over the affidavits to the press for
fear that Mirch would use that information to intimidate the
After being pressed by the media, Wade fleshed out the allegations
tied to the two supposed affidavits. In one, Wade alleged
that Mirch paid a homeless man for his vote in 2007. In another,
Wade claimed that Mirch forged an absentee ballot.
Mirch paid cash to a voter,” Wade said, adding that it was
a small amount of money. “I don’t think he walks down the
street handing out money.”
Mirch dismissed both allegations, pointing out that the allegation
of forgery had been previously investigated by the state,
and the money he gave the homeless man in ’07 was simply an
act of charity and nothing more.
Asked why Wade was bringing these allegations to the attention
of the media now, years after the alleged incidents, he answered,
“The door was opened last week” by the Republicans securing
the special prosecutor. “We are looking for a thorough investigation.”
Some Democrats, off the record, questioned Wade’s decision
to hold the press conference if he couldn’t provide more concrete
allegations, and worried that it only kept a potentially damaging
situation alive in the media.
Others, such as Troy Councilman Bill Dunne, think the controversy
will have little effect on the Democrats come November. “I
still think that in two years, there will be a Democratic
mayor, and the Democrats will still control the majority on
the council. I just don’t believe any of the candidates were
involved in this.”
voters are being hurt the most by this,” said Martiniano,
who is running for City Council in District 2. “The issues
surrounding the homeless money, reassessments, City Hall [are
being ignored]. We want to talk to people about the landlord
registry, which I don’t think it went far enough. It is hurting
Martiniano continued: “When you have Mirch being the moral
compass of Troy, there is a real issue there.”
When asked about Wade’s press conference, Mirch said, “That
was orchestrated by Wade and Clem to cover up the alleged
crimes of fraud, forgery and conspiracy that I believe they
have been involved with for the past month. This was all about
Clem Campana beginning a cover-up of the crimes he has been
accused of committing.”
Campana has denied all charges of wrongdoing.
known Tom Wade longer than anyone else,” Mirch said. “And
as this story was starting to unfold, I would tell people
I absolutely did not think he was involved. Now, my thoughts
have changed: I think he was clearly involved. I think he
was the mastermind of it.”
As for Mirch, Wade said that he has known him longer than
anyone, and summed up the controversial Republican politician:
Mirch said he has spent several thousand dollars of his own
money, and money from his campaign committee, to pay the private
investigators to help him collect the affidavits he has turned
over to the courts and media.
Milk Doesn’t Do Any body Good
Tuesday, two members of People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals drew a small crowd of media and confused onlookers
as a man dressed as a cow poured a milklike liquid into a
trashcan labeled “dump milk” on the corner of New Scotland
Avenue. The publicity stunt was to gain attention for PETA’s
recent undercover investigation into a Pennsylvania-based
farm that supplies milk for Land O’ Lakes. PETA claimed that
they uncovered unsettling evidence that the cows at the farm
live in horrid conditions, covered in their own feces and
urine, with open wounds that ooze puss. “And this is getting
into your milk,” claimed PETA organizer Virginia Fort. For
more information, visit PETA.org.
loose ends this week-