turf wars

East Harlem parents pre-emptively organize against charter school

Some East Harlem parents aren’t waiting to find out whether a charter school will move into their school building before organizing against the possibility.

Parents at the Manhattan East School for Arts and Academies recently got wind that the Department of Education was considering placing Harlem Success Academy 5, one of three new charters Eva Moskowitz plans to open next year, in their building. The plan would call for Manhattan East to move to another building across the street to create space for Moskowitz’s school.

The founding principal of Manhattan East, Jacqueline Ancess, said that the DOE did not tell the school that it could be moved; rather, the current principal and parents association head found out that a move was under consideration at an unrelated DOE meeting “by accident,” she said.

Ancess and the school’s parent association responded by sending out a letter yesterday asking parents and supporters to call the city’s information hotline today to ask the city not to relocate the school.

“Manhattan East is a very successful school,” the message urges parents to tell the city. “Moving Manhattan East from its home is unconscionable.”

DOE officials said school supporters’ outrage is premature. “We’re still in the process of looking for space for HSA 5 in District 4,” said DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte. “At this time, no decisions have been made.”

A DOE official said that while the building where Manhattan East is located had been under discussion as a potential location for the new HSA school but that it was not currently a likely choice.

The situation reflects an environment of heightened mistrust of the DOE among parents at many district schools in neighborhoods where charters are also expanding. Across the city, the DOE’s plans to place charter schools in buildings inside district school buildings frequently have been met with fierce resistance from parents at the district schools, who argue that their schools should not be required to give up space and resources for charter schools.

Ancess said that even if thoughts of moving the new HSA school into Manhattan East’s building are abandoned, the fact that the DOE would consider moving a successful district school to give space to a new charter demonstrated that the city is giving unfair preference to charters.

“It’s okay with them to consider moving Manhattan East, for a school that doesn’t exist yet,” she said. “That’s what is shocking to me.”

Here’s the letter that the former head of Manhattan East, Jacqueline Ancess, sent out to parents:

Dear Family and Friends,   The middle school I started nearly 30 years ago is in trouble and I need you to help.   Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2 p.m., please call 311 and protest the plans of the NYC Department of Education to permit a charter school–Eva Moskowitz’s fifth “Harlem Success Academy”–from displacing Manhattan East from its home in the building on E. 99th Street.  I suggest that you might tell the 311 operator the following:   “This is a complaint to the NYC Department of Education. I am strongly opposed to the Department of Education evicting Manhattan East from JHS 99 to make room for Eva Moscowitz’s charter school. Manhattan East is a very successful school. Moving Manhattan East from its home is unconscionable.”

Here is what is going on: In a secret deal between Moskowitz and the DOE, without any notification to the Manhattan East community, the stage has been set to eject the school from the home it has been in for over fifteen years.  Manhattan East would be the first successful school that the DOE has tried to oust from its home in an effort to accommodate charter schools at the expense of public schools. Moskowitz, who makes close to $400,000 for managing three schools (more than even chancellor Klein), has made no effort to contact the Manhattan East principal or the PTA president.

This is an unprecedented outrage and the DOE needs to hear your protest.  Call tomorrow and let the DOE know that as a New Yorker and a friend of Manhattan East, you will not stand for their arrogant misuse of power.

This is only one instance of an attack on the public school system by the very people who should be protecting and supporting it.

Please pass this on to other friends of Manhattan East.  Thank you.   Jackie

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”