BERNIE BARAN: WHY WE CAN’T JUST WALK AWAY, plus, Local Christmas Lists Adjusted and An Educational Manifesto
BY DAN VALENTI
THE BARAN CASE: STILL ALIVE AND WELL, BUT THIS TIME ON THE SIDE OF JUSTICE
Perhaps the most egregious miscarriage of justice in Berkshire County history can be found in the case of Bernard Baran of Pittsfield, falsely accused, unfairly tried, cruelly convicted, and forced to spend 20 years in state prison, where he endured unspeakable abuse.
On June 26, 2006, Baran, upon appeal. was finally granted a new trial. Ten days later, the courts released Baran on bond. District Attorney David Capeless, who inherited the case following the sudden death of DA Gerard Downing in December 2003, maintained Baran’s guilt and fought to prevent a new trial for three years. That was his right as a prosecutor.
Capeless’ actions, however, came despite the overwhelming evidence that showed Baran never received a fair trial. Why would Capeless act this way? Could he have been convinced, where few objective people are, that Baran truly committed the child molestation charges brought against him under dubious circumstances? Perhaps.
On Feb. 12, 2008, the Appellate Court conducted a hearing on the Baran case. Fifteen months later, after all the legal of maneuvers of the DA apparently exhausted all legal stalling maneuvers, the court ruled in Baran’s favor and affirmed his right to a new trial. That was on May 15, 2009.
The appellate judge said, in part, that “it cannot be said that the defendant received anything close to a fair trial (emphasis mine).” On June 9, Capeless, in a press conference, announces that he is dropping all charges against Baran. Let those words sink in: “anything close.”
Numerous questions arise. Why was it so imperative that Bernard Baran be accused, railroaded and sent off to a life term in prison? How could such a shoddy case be built and such a kangaroo trial be conducted in what is an honest legal system? How is the confidence in the courts not severely shaken by this tragic case? Why did the DA’s office act in the manner that it did, initially and throughout? Why did the DA’s office continue its unjust persecution of Baran when it was apparent to disinterested jurists that Baran hadn’t received “anything close” to a fair trial? How much does the state owe a man for 20 years of his life? Surely, more than a “Opps, uh, never mind,” which is basically all that Baran received.
The answers to these questions may reveal much more than anyone knows or wants to know.
You may wonder why THE PLANET takes up this case now. We will simply say that justice, whenever systemically abused, must be righted. That has not yet been done in the Baran case. The fallout from the puzzling, overzealous need to put Baran away has left a large hole in the societal soul of Berkshire County. Until that hole is healed, do we have good reason to suspect jurisprudence can be meted out locally in a fair and impartial way?
Much has been destroyed. There is much more to be built back up.
Crossed off the List
THE PLANET’s spies reports the following changes in this year’s Christmas card lists. Please make any necessary adjustments in your replies. This is a partial list.
— Mayor Jimmy Ruberto has crossed off Jeff Ferrin for Christmas greetings (though he may be restored).
— Jeff Ferrin has added Joe Nichols and Melissa Mazzeo.
— Deanna Ruffer has dropped Pam Malumphy.
— Pam Malumphy has crossed off THE PLANET. The stamp saved, we hope, will go to a good cause.
— Rick Scapin has added THE PLANET.
— John Krol has axed WBRK talkmeister Bill Sturgeon.
— Gerry Lee has deep-sixed Mazzeo and Nichols. Gee, wonder why?
— Peter Marchetti HAS NOT added Dan Bianchi, despite words to that effect.
— Kevin Sherman and Mike Ward have NOT nixed Peter White.
— Peter White has added everybody.
— Christine Yon has added St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Christmas!
— Paul Capitanio has dropped Jonathan Lothrop.
— Jimmy Gleason has dropped John Barrett.
— John Barrett has added THE PLANET.
— John Barrett does not have to add Jimmy Ruberto.
— Buddy Lewis adds the 29,000-plus who attended Colonials’ baseball in 2010.
— Peter White added everybody again, just to be sure.
Do you know of any others? Leave a reply!
Work-to-Rule vs. Fixing What’s Wrong
While the Pittsfield teachers’ union continues to throw children under the bus with its lame-brained “work-to-rule” action (the second one its taken this year), we present for the edification of all concerned with public education the following manifesto issued and signed by 16 education leaders from throughout America.
We hope members of the United Educators of Pittsfield tell their leaders about this and attempt to speak out against what many of the rank-and-file, plus virtually all members of the public, believe is a blatant case of “unionism” at its worst.
Here is the manifesto:
How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders
Sunday, October 10, 2010; B01
Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools; Peter C. Gorman, superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Ron Huberman, chief executive, Chicago Public Schools; Carol R. Johnson, superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Andrés A. Alonso, chief executive, Baltimore City Public Schools; Tom Boasberg, superintendent, Denver Public Schools; Arlene C. Ackerman, superintendent of schools, the School District of Philadelphia; William R. Hite Jr., superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools;Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools, Rochester City School District (N.Y.); José M. Torres, superintendent, Illinois School District U-46; J.Wm. Covington, superintendent, Kansas City, Missouri School District; Terry B. Grier, superintendent of schools, Houston Independent School District;Paul Vallas, superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District; Eugene White, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools; LaVonne Sheffield, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools (Illinois)
As educators, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 2 1/2 million students in America, we know that the task of reforming the country’s public schools begins with us. It is our obligation to enhance the personal growth and academic achievement of our students, and we must be accountable for how our schools perform.
All of us have taken steps to move our students forward, and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has been the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades. But those reforms are still outpaced and outsized by the crisis in public education.
Fortunately, the public, and our leaders in government, are finally paying attention. The “Waiting for ‘Superman’ “ documentary, the defeat of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools, and a tidal wave of media attention have helped spark a national debate and presented us with an extraordinary opportunity.
But the transformative changes needed to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children. These practices are wrong, and they have to end now.
It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.
So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.
Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.
A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success. By contrast, a poorly performing teacher can hold back hundreds, maybe thousands, of students over the course of a career. Each day that we ignore this reality is precious time lost for children preparing for the challenges of adulthood.
The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher — and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession — has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.
There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.
District leaders also need the authority to use financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. When teachers are highly effective — measured in significant part by how well students are doing academically — or are willing to take a job in a tough school or in a hard-to-staff subject area such as advanced math or science, we should be able to pay them more. Important initiatives, such as the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, are helping bring great educators to struggling communities, but we have to change the rules to professionalize teaching.
Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school — a culture that rewards excellence, elevates the status of teachers and is positioned to help as many students as possible beat the odds. We need the best teacher for every child, and the best principal for every school. Of course, we must also do a better job of providing meaningful training for teachers who seek to improve, but let’s stop pretending that everyone who goes into the classroom has the ability and temperament to lift our children to excellence.
Even the best teachers — those who possess such skills — face stiff challenges in meeting the diverse needs of their students. A single elementary- or middle-school classroom can contain, for instance, students who read on two or three different grade levels, and that range grows even wider as students move into high school. Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to address all the needs of 25 or 30 students when some are reading on a fourth-grade level and others are ready for Tolstoy? We must equip educators with the best technology available to make instruction more effective and efficient. By better using technology to collect data on student learning and shape individualized instruction, we can help transform our classrooms and lessen the burden on teachers’ time.
To make this transformation work, we must also eliminate arcane rules such as “seat time,” which requires a student to spend a specific amount of time in a classroom with a teacher rather than taking advantage of online lessons and other programs.
Just as we must give teachers and schools the capability and flexibility to meet the needs of students, we must give parents a better portfolio of school choices. That starts with having the courage to replace or substantially restructure persistently low-performing schools that continuously fail our students. Closing a neighborhood school — whether it’s in Southeast D.C., Harlem, Denver or Chicago — is a difficult decision that can be very emotional for a community. But no one ever said leadership is easy.
We also must make charter schools a truly viable option. If all of our neighborhood schools were great, we wouldn’t be facing this crisis. But our children need great schools now — whether district-run public schools or public charter schools serving all students — and we shouldn’t limit the numbers of one form at the expense of the other. Excellence must be our only criteria for evaluating our schools.
For the wealthiest among us, the crisis in public education may still seem like someone else’s problem, because those families can afford to choose something better for their kids. But it’s a problem for all of us — until we fix our schools, we will never fix the nation’s broader economic problems. Until we fix our schools, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only grow wider and the United States will fall further behind the rest of the industrialized world in education, rendering the American dream a distant, elusive memory.