Weeks after teachers at Fort Hamilton High School began speculating that their longtime principal was on her way out the door, the Department of Education has appointed a replacement.
Kaye Houlihan, an administrator who for seven years led the English department at the city’s most selective arts high school, is the city’s choice to take over for Jo Ann Chester. Chester retired precipitously last week after 13 years at Fort Hamilton’s helm.
Chester had long maintained a low profile beyond the Bay Ridge school, but in the last year, she ended up under multiple investigations. One focused on a cost-cutting scheme in which Chester hired teachers on a full-time basis but paid them as substitutes. Another investigation began in February after a Department of Education audit concluded that some Fort Hamilton students had gotten passing grades on Regents exams when they should have failed.
Shortly after school year began, teachers at the school said they saw Chester removing personal belongings from the building. “She left quieter than a mouse,” one teacher said after the second week of the year.
Last week, after Chester did not return after the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and department officials confirmed that her retirement would become effective the next day. On Friday, an official from the school’s support network, Bill Dugan, arrived to take charge for the day, but teachers were told that a permanent replacement would not come until today.
The interim acting principal, Houlihan, has been an assistant principal at Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School for Music and Art & the Performing Arts, an English teacher at Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, and the high school director at a city charter school, and a literacy specialist for the New Visions school support network, according to the Department of Education.
“Kaye Houlihan is a visionary instructional leader who will ensure the success of Fort Hamilton High School students,” said Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman.
At LaGuardia, Houlihan supervised the school’s newspaper, yearbook, and literary magazines while also training and supporting English teachers, according to the department. She also supervised the school’s handling of credit recovery, or the practice of allowing students to make up failed classes by completing short-term projects or assignments.
Houlihan was the high school director listed on the 2010-2011 city report card for New Heights Academy Charter School, located in Upper Manhattan. That year, the high school received an A from the city, but Houlihan and her middle school counterpart received lukewarm scores from teachers on the department’s annual Learning Environment Survey. The pair’s scores for maintaining open communication and including staff members in decision-making plummeted from the previous year, when the school had a different leader.
“I wish her the best as she completes the screening process with the Dept. of Education and the Community Education Council and as a proud Ft. Hamilton alum, I look forward to working with her for the future of our great community,” Gentile wrote.