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Push to ease crowding by moving Clinton School draws ire

A plan aimed at easing crowding in District 2 has parents up in arms because it would force a popular middle school to move from its long-time home.

The plan would move the Clinton School for Writers and Artists to P.S. 33, roughly five blocks from its home on the fifth floor of P.S. 11 in Chelsea. The move was finalized at the end of last week just as the school’s parent-teacher association sent a letter to the Department of Education rejecting the placement.

Though parents and the department agree that P.S. 11 is too overcrowded for the Clinton School to remain there, there’s disagreement over whether P.S. 33 is an appropriate relocation spot.

In a letter sent to the DOE last Friday, co-president of the PTA Darren Taffinder asked that the Clinton School be given one more year at P.S. 11. Taffinder wrote that he and other parents couldn’t agree to a move to P.S. 33 without knowing how much space their school would have and without a promise that the move is temporary.

According to Taffinder, the DOE is currently looking to buy a building on 15 Street near Union Square that would serve as the Clinton School’s permanent home, but it could be three or four years before the school can move there.

“We want the proposal to be firmer,” Taffinder said. “We’re basically being asked to move to a location where we’re not really sure where we’re going to be situated, we don’t know how long it’s going to be, and they haven’t even purchased permanent space, they’re just in negotiations.”

Diana Darling, a parent on the Clinton School’s relocation committee, said the DOE  should rezone the district to ease crowding at P.S. 11, moving some of that school’s students to the proposed new home for Clinton, P.S. 33. A DOE official said the department had looked into rezoning but found that few District 2 residents were happy with the idea.

In preparation for the Clinton School’s move to P.S. 33, most of the classes in a District 75 school, P.S. 138, will have to move out of the school to make room. A spokesman for the DOE, Will Havemann, said that only classes for deaf students at P.S. 138 would stay in the building. The DOE has not found a new location for P.S. 138 yet.

The episode is the latest conflict to arise as the DOE tries to shift schools in lower Manhattan to alleviate overcrowding.

A letter from Clinton School principal Joseph Anderson informed parents that the move to P.S. 33 had been finalized.

December 7, 2009

Dear Clinton Community,

Over the past weekend I had been in communication with both our Network Leader Ms. Sanda Balaban and a representative from the Department of Education, Mr. Jeff Shear.  Later today an announcement will be issued by Chancellor Joel Klein and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott regarding the Department of Education’s decision to temporarily move The Clinton School for Writers and Artists to 281 9th Avenue and their commitment to securing a building of our own within the foreseeable future.

While a temporary move to 281 9th Avenue was not the most popular solution, I respect and thank the Department of Education for creating channels to allow the voice of our community to be heard, to have the concerns of our community raised, for the commitment to finding us a permanent building of our own, and for the promise of continued support throughout the remainder of the relocation process.

Our Superintendent Ms. Daria Rigney and our Network have been exceptionally supportive throughout the past few months, and I have complete confidence that they will continue to support our school throughout the remainder of the relocation process.  I also have complete confidence in the faculty, students, and families of Clinton that we continue to put the needs of students first and will continue to be recognized as New York City’s Most Outstanding Public Middle School.

Once I receive the official announcement of the Department of Education’s decision from the Chancellor’s Office I will forward it to all community members so we may begin to discuss ways in which to best facilitate the upcoming relocation and ensure a smooth transition to our new home on 9th Avenue.

Change opens the doors to new possibilities.  I am looking forward to collaboratively exploring the new opportunities ahead of us, to reflecting upon what matters most to us as a school community, and how we can creatively and positively capitalize on these new opportunities to sustain and strengthen our work as we move into a new space.

Thank you for your commitment to academic and artistic excellence at The Clinton School for Writers and Artists.


Joseph Anderson


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.”