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lombardoAn email from a retiring Rochester City School District teacher sent to the superintendent and other top officials received a lot of attention.

Alice Lombardo sent me her email a few days before her April 10 retirement. The longtime educator wanted people to know why she was leaving. The email described a chaotic, stressful and dangerous work environment. The tone was desperate and frustrated.

I found her story credible, as I’ve heard similar stories from other teachers. I had also recently done a story on the district’s infamous rubber room. (That story also featured a retired teacher; they are free to speak out.)

Finding the truth of what goes on in schools can be very difficult without micro-managed access and staff worried about retaliation. I shared Lombardo’s message on social media, because that was probably the only way her story would get out. We don’t always need to do stories wrapped in a bow for the web or broadcast. There’s more than one way to tell a story and find the truth.

When I shared the email on my Facebook page, I expected a lot of people to be critical of her letter. I expected some people to question her credibility or bring up skeletons in her closets. I expected some people to say she shouldn’t be teaching, with an email that didn’t have anything charitable to say about her school. I expected someone to defend the school.

But none of that happened. With the exception of some comments questioning my own decision to share the letter, every comment supported Lombardo. Many teachers from other schools shared similar stories. The comments from people who knew her, especially colleagues and parents, were especially valuable.

After nine years in 6th grade, I have seen and been victim to some of the exact situations that teacher mentioned. It is REAL and it is abuse. Our district must change for the sake of the children and the teachers! – Andrea Phillips Fricano

My story is much like Alice Lombardo’s. I too worked for the RCSD (#9 and #17). Mine also is a long story which resulted in such stress that I had a stroke in 2013. – Gladys Velazquez

This is totally the reality of where I teach though. Do you know how many times this week alone students cursed at me or around me and refused to follow my directions? The fifth and sixth graders are totally out of control. My class is wonderful and does great but the older kids are awful. I was pushed today twice. – Third Grade Teacher, RCSD

Unfortunately I know all too well what she’s talking about and I also thought she was a great teacher very saddened by her experience. – Sha’Ronda Lynette Jackson

I’m so saddened by this. It does not surprise me that it has gotten this bad, but still sad nonetheless. You were MY sixth grade teacher in a city school full of disrespectful kids even back then in the 90s…Back when we ASKED to eat lunch in your classroom during your own break so that WE weren’t harassed daily. Back when we had to have our parents pick us up from school after the bus kids were dismissed so that we didn’t get beat up. So THANK YOU for always standing up for your students who need it and deserve it! – Meredith Tedesco

It hurts to read this and how degraded the system has become. I think back fondly on my time spent with you Mrs Lombardo and the amazing teachers at Frederick Douglas school and think to all of the fun we had learning in your class. You taught us to think for ourselves and out of the box. You instilled the confidence that led us to become the people we are today…There aren’t enough words to thank you. I am so very sorry this is the way you end your career as a teacher. Please know that you truly made a difference in our world! – Liberty Lally

Alice Lombardo, this breaks my heart. I never would’ve made it through middle school without you. You gave up your own time so we could all eat lunch with you in your classroom, where we all felt safe. You helped mold me into the respectful woman I am today. The world needs more teachers like you. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this. I love you dearly and you will ALWAYS be my favorite teacher. Much love to you. – Michelle Travers

Thank you for speaking out. I, too am retiring this June after 33 years.
The disrespect and lack of consequences for unsafe and disruptive behaviors is the main reason. There are many great kids who are respectful but their learning environment has b
ecome a toxic arena of disrespectful peers. They are suffering as well as the teachers on a daily basis. I use to LOVE teaching but now I dread going to work. It is abusive everyday. – Robin Rudy

Wow! My heart goes out to this woman. Just this week I visited that same school and within 30 minutes knew that I would not be anle to accept a position offered to me. I simply did not feel safe and after hearing staff talk about incidents like race riots as the norm, I was in utter shock and disgust for what the children and adults have to endure. – JoVanna Jenkins

I resigned last year from the RCSD in May of 2014, after 14 years in the district, after being basically being told it was my fault for being assaulted in the classroom by a 4th grader. The district’s position on violence against teachers according to their response to my worker’s comp case was that it “is nothing more than work in the ordinary course of the claimant’s job as a teacher in an inner city school environment. – Chelsea Rowe

She was awesome. She had my son for many yrs and all my kids passed through 17 schools doors while she was there and all of them have graduated high school and on to higher learning now. It was Mrs . Alice who got my son the services he needed to be the young recently graduated working young man he is now and the rest of the staff there. It’s clear that she is tired of fighting with no army as times have changed. – Shareen Tanna

I am so glad I no longer work for the RCSD! What she wrote is so true and I wish I had the same courage to write it all in my resignation letter. I taught there for 9 years in different schools. By the time I resigned I was also under medical care and on antidepressants and antianxiety medications. – Kristen Bonn

I worked at School 17 with Alice during the 2012-2014 school years. We both taught 6th grade. She is one of the most courageous women I know. I am so proud of her. – Kellene Paul

I worked in Alice’s classroom a few years back. She is not one for exaggeration or outlandish overstatements. It does nor surprise me that the administration tried to make light of the situation. To admit she was right would be to admit that are negligent in their job (which they clearly are). But to be fair, teachers and administrators can only do so much. Parents are shirking their responsibility in raising polite, respectful children. They are allowed to act this way at home without any consequences, so when they get to school and are expected to behave appropriately, they rebel. It all begins and ends with parents. – Karen Nasella Melville

Lombardo is getting some rest and she’s on vacation. She emailed me that she is thinking about my request for a television interview.

“I shared my letter because I want things to change, especially for the students and the conditions under which they are schooled,” she said. “I want the RCSD to address issues instead of sweeping them under the rug.”


Links of the Day:


– An award-winning, outspoken New York City principal is retiring early to take on the test and punish system.

– An article in the Buffalo News quotes a Cuomo official saying the state is in talks with several mayors about mayoral control of schools. Since there are only five eligible cities and New York City already has mayoral control, one can surmise Rochester is in these talks.

– Look up the obesity rates in your school district with this interactive map.

– Emails reveal Hollywood effort to give Cuomo donations because he helped with film tax credits.

– “They think, ‘Oh my God, there are kids outside. We have to call the police.'”

– Black families have traditional used black funeral homes. In Buffalo, that’s changing.

Go ahead, swim in Onondaga Lake.

5 Responses to Alice

  1. While I think that the taking of a test is not the worst possible thing in education today, the environment in some city schools may just be. I was a substitute teacher’s aide in a city school (I won’t say which one) off and on for a year (they called me about a dozen times in all). What I saw there in my brief period makes me think it would be a good idea to send teachers to the police academy. I was never directly threatened or assaulted but I was in the library where a librarian was threatened with violence of the worst kind. By a 12-year-old. I won’t repeat what precisely was said but it made me alert, in case she needed someone to tackle them. Sentries telling us which areas we couldn’t go in b/c there was a fight. It turned out, according to the rumor, to be over a pen with some feathers on it. A sentry was sworn at (big deal, I know). Two students in the library where I was assigned began throwing bits of paper at each other. Three sentries the size of football tackles came in. The lead one told them to come with him. One of the kids refused and swore at him. The sentry threw him to the floor, then picked him up and took him out. The other kid came along but mumbled something under his breath. The school I was in, was one of the “better” schools too. Makes me wonder what it would be like to be in one of the worst schools. Suspensions don’t work. Uniforms may or may not work. Conferences may or may not work. Could corporal punishment? 25 licks of a paddle? I don’t know, I don’t want it to go to that extreme but when even some elementary school students feel they have a right to swear, abuse and assault another person, especially someone trying to teach them to get through life, it makes me think.

  2. April 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm Rob Schon responds:

    I have performed as a maintenance electrician at several city schools.From the early 2000’s until the present.I feel more like i am working at a prison then a school.Totally out of control!The state knows it’s not the teachers faults.The blame lies with the parents.They need to be held accountable for their children actions.Not the teachers.

  3. April 19, 2015 at 12:27 pm Mary McMillen responds:

    My mother retired from teaching in 1975 because as a third grade teacher, and standing all of five feet tall, weighing 100 lbs, the male students were larger and taller than she. Mom expressed concern for her personal safety. That was 40 years ago. At that time, technology wasn’t an issue. Yet, manners and respect were. Sadly, while technology has changed as time and inventions develop. Still, the need for ethical responsibility of administrators and parents seems lacking. Is there a way to change this?

  4. This is the result of Political Correctness and all other LIBERAL ideas. There is a simple solution. Throw the troublemakers OUT! Let those that want to learn be free from the troublemakers. You say you can’t….that ALL children have the right to an education! OK, let it be status quo. You reap what you sow. The other approach would be to have a school simply for troublemakers. Let them be among their peers. See how they like it. Maybe that will change their outlook. To get back in a learning school, they must agree to abide by the rules.

    On another note, I took the 4th grade math test that was in this mornings D&C. I got them all right, but I have a technical college degree. I don’t know what to make of this test. Some questions were relatively easy. Some were kind of tricky ( do you really want to trick these 4th graders ), and others were just plain ridiculous. What I concluded from these tests is that they seemed to be testing INTELLECT and REASONING skills more that math skills. Intellect and reasoning are traits that I don’t think can be taught. They are in your genes. I have worked with many engineers over the years who have graduated from fine colleges. They had very high GPA’s. Some could figure out problems and apply their knowledge, others were CLUELESS. The point being that if these questions were the norm for these common core tests, then I, for one, would highly question the people or company that is designing these tests. Maybe this opt-out movement has a valid point.

  5. Pingback: Recess for Discipline? » The Rochesterian

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