Fariña appoints new Boys and Girls principal as staffers await her turnaround plan

The longtime leader of a high-performing Brooklyn school will take over struggling Boys and Girls High School, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Thursday, a week after Boys and Girls’ principal resigned while criticizing the city’s failure to help improve the school.

Michael Wiltshire, the principal of Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Crown Heights since 2001, will soon take control of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant where he once taught, Fariña said late Thursday. The New York Daily News first reported the move.

“Michael Wiltshire is a veteran educator with a proven track record of success as a principal and is undoubtedly the right leader to turn this school around,” Fariña said in a statement.

On Thursday evening, a group of parents, staffers, and students meeting at Boys and Girls said they were eager to meet Wiltshire and to receive details of the city’s improvement plan. But some questioned how his experience would translate, noting that his school only admits top-ranked students, while many Boys and Girls students have special needs or are behind academically.

At the meeting, staff members said Boys and Girls was thrown into chaos by the sudden departure of principal Bernard Gassaway, who said last week that the city’s yet-to-be-revealed turnaround plan for the school “is doomed to fail.” The city must submit that plan to the state because Boys and Girls is one of the lowest-ranked schools in New York. The plans were due this summer, but Fariña has asked for permission to turn them in next month.

Michael Wiltshire will be taking over as principal of Boys and Girls. (Sharon Rubinstein, Teaching Matters)

The leadership group echoed Gassaway’s charge that the city’s delay in finalizing its plans would make it harder for the school to improve this year, noting that the school’s first marking period is nearly over.

“We still haven’t seen the real action plan,” one teacher said. “It’s like if you go into a classroom without a lesson plan — you’re planning to fail.”

The elected officials and community leaders who make up Boys and Girls’ powerful advisory board did recently meet with Fariña to discuss her plans for the school, and Fariña told them that “closure is not an option” for the school, according to board member and former City Councilman Albert Vann. She also promised more money for school facilities and staff, according to another board member, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery. (Department officials declined to comment on those specifics.)

The advisory board also played a major role in Wiltshire’s appointment, members said. They began casting about for a new principal shortly after Gassaway announced his intention to leave about a month ago, according to Vann and Montgomery. After they met Wiltshire at his school and were impressed, they submitted his name to the chancellor, who interviewed him soon after, they said.

Though they are separated by less than two miles, Wiltshire’s school and Boys and Girls could not be more distinct.

Medgar Evers College Prep is a grades 6-to-12 school that admits new students based on their state test scores, grades, attendance, and entrance-exam results. With just 3 percent of students having disabilities and 1.4 percent having been held back before, the school achieved a 97 percent graduation rate in 2013.

Boys and Girls, meanwhile, is a bottom-ranked high school that accepts all applicants, but only managed to fill 98 of 140 open ninth-grade spots this year, teachers said. In 2013, when about 22 percent of its students had disabilities and 16 percent had been held back before, it managed a 44 percent graduation rate.

As news of Gassaway’s resignation spread through the school this week, hastened by an automated phone message that he sent to parents and faculty, the school’s leadership team said students have been upset and teachers anxious. They learned about his replacement that morning by reading the newspaper, they said.

“Nobody’s informing us,” said 17-year-old student Calvin Brown, Jr.

City officials said they expect the school to raise its graduation, credit accumulation, attendance, and Regents-exam pass rates by the end of the school year, group members said. Some argued that is unreasonable and unfair, since the school is undergoing a leadership change and staffers still have not seen the city’s turnaround plan for the school.

“Fariña got her extension to November,” one educator said, referring to the extra three months the city received to file its school-improvement plans. “Why shouldn’t we get an extension?”