LaGuardia High School principal to leave after drama-filled tenure

LaGuardia High School on the Upper West Side is one of the city’s elite specialized high schools.
Yeou-Jey Vasconcelos saw the highly competitive school through the COVID pandemic and bitter battles over Advanced Placement courses and class schedules. (Christina Veiga / Chalkbeat)

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Yeou-Jey Vasconcelos, principal of Manhattan’s famed LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts, is leaving her role March 3, according to a letter she sent to families Monday.

Vasconcelos saw the highly competitive school through the COVID-19 pandemic and bitter battles over Advanced Placement courses and class schedules. 

She is departing for an “opportunity to serve New York City students and families in a leadership capacity outside of the Department of Education,” she wrote.

Vasconcelos did not immediately say who would succeed her, and education department officials didn’t immediately respond to a question about who will take over.

Vasconcelos, a 17-year-veteran of the education department, took the helm at LaGuardia in 2019 following widespread backlash against her predecessor, Lisa Mars. Parents and teachers accused Mars of pulling the school — the inspiration for the “Fame” movies and television series — from its arts focus and overemphasizing academics.

Vasconcelos, an accomplished musician, promised a fresh start, opening her tenure by playing piano in the school’s lobby.

But less than a year into her principalship, the COVID pandemic hit, shutting down schools and touching off bitter fights over school closures, safety precautions, and remote learning at LaGuardia and schools across the city.

Some parents bristled at limited in-person school hours at LaGuardia and other large high schools because of complicated COVID precautions and social distancing restrictions.

Tensions at the school continued to mount over a proposal from Vasconcelos and staff to scale back the school’s Advanced Placement offerings and replace them with other types of high level courses in an effort to cut down on student stress and give teachers more flexibility.

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Critics accused her of diluting academic rigor and putting their kids at a disadvantage in the college application process.

A battle brewed once again earlier this school year over a proposal to modify the school’s schedule by reducing the number of class periods for some students and shortening the day. Some students had pushed for a shorter day as a way to cut down on high levels of student stress and free up time from an unusually long school day, while critics said the move would further compromise academic rigor.

In her departure note, Vasconcelos reminded students that “reflective silence can overpower even the loudest noise. There is great power in the pauses in choreography, the rests in music, the negative space in design.”

She added, “May LaGuardia’s equity lamp always burn bright.”

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at melsen-rooney@chalkbeat.org.

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