the axe

John Dewey HS principal removed as city preps for turnaround

Barry Fried, the longtime principal of John Dewey High School, was removed from the Brooklyn school suddenly this morning, according to several teachers at the school.

It was not immediately clear whether Fried’s removal was related to “turnaround,” the federally prescribed reform process that the city has proposed for Dewey and 32 other struggling schools. Turnaround requires principals who have been in place for more than a few years to be replaced, and the city has started informing principals at some of the schools that they would be removed at the end of the year.

But Fried’s departure happened abruptly, suggesting that the city might have had more immediate concerns. Department of Education officials did not respond to requests for details about Fried’s departure today.

At a faculty meeting this afternoon, Kathleen Elvin was introduced as the school’s interim acting principal. Elvin was the founding principal of a successful small high school, Williamsburg Prep, and most recently trained teachers assigned to schools undergoing less agressive overhaul strategies. She is likely to help engineer staffing and programming changes at the school through the turnaround process.

The change, according to people familiar with the school, was sorely needed — but comes after too long with subpar leadership.

“Principal Fried sits in his office all day and can’t control the students,” City Councilman Dominic Recchia, a 1977 Dewey graduate, said at a public meeting earlier this year, according to the Brooklyn Daily. “This principal should have been gone years ago. The school could prosper but it needs new leadership.”

Under Fried’s tenure, Dewey — which was founded in 1969 as a “modern” school with progressive instruction — earned solidly mediocre scores on the city’s progress reports and saw a spike in violent incidents. After a lockdown in 2008 when a student was seen with a gun in a classroom, the open campus was closed and students could no longer leave during the day.

When the city assigned dozens of schools to “transformation” in 2010, requiring the removal of longtime principals, it left Dewey untouched and Fried in place. In 2011, Fried stayed on after the city assigned Dewey a nonprofit partner through “restart.”

“In 2010 if Dewey got the transformation model, we would’ve gotten a new principal who could’ve helped the school,” said a teacher who has worked at the school since before Fried arrived in 1997. “The DOE clearly didn’t give Dewey a chance by keeping Fried in the school.”

Today, Leo Casey, the UFT vice president in charge of high schools, said Fried was a poor leader, but the city was making matters worse by removing Fried in the middle of the year.”There were longstanding issues concerning his ability to lead the school, but despite acknowledging that, the DOE did nothing to find a replacement,” Casey said. “Now, they are doing it in the middle of the term, which is disruptive, because it suits their organizational purposes to do so.”

Teachers and students at the school have been vigorously protesting the turnaround plan, holding weekly rallies outside the school. Last Friday, Dewey students walked out of classes in protest, and on Monday they turned out en masse for a meeting about turnaround held at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”