Small Schools Athletic League founder to file civil rights complaint

Updated with city response — David Garcia-Rosen has been fighting for more athletic opportunities for students at the city’s small schools for years. In 2011, he turned that advocacy into the Small Schools Athletic League, which this year coordinated 90 teams at 42 schools.

Now, he says he’s headed to the U.S. Department of Education to make his point: that students at small schools—primarily students of color—have been denied teams by the city-funded Public Schools Athletic League, just as larger schools with more resources and fewer black and Hispanic students have gained them.

“Tomorrow morning, I will file a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office of  Civil Rights stating that the New York City Department of Education is in direct violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the way they fund high school sports,” he said in an open letter to principals and athletes.

On Tuesday, Garcia-Rosen acknowledged that the city had offered to incorporate the small-schools league as a division of the Public Schools Athletic League next year, and had offered him a job in the PSAL. (The small-schools league has been funded by principals in the past, though the department provided a $250,000 grant this January.)

But he said the city offered few details about how the small-schools division would be supported or how he would fit into the hierarchy of the department.

For now, Garcia-Rosen said he plans to end the Small Schools Athletic League altogether next year. “We’re hoping that the mayor and the Public Advocate step in and make sure there is a solution that involves major changes” to the Public Schools Athletic League, he said.

“They thought to was more important to give Tottenville High School, that already has 41 teams, badminton and table tennis. But they don’t have enough money to provide soccer all over the city,” he said. “How could we feel OK bringing the league over there if they think that’s OK?”

City officials declined to comment on the specifics of Garcia-Rosen’s letter, but noted that 80 percent of PSAL participants are students of color and that 90 percent of high school students go to school at a campus with at least one PSAL program.

“We are working to create a new league in PSAL which will expand opportunity for students in small schools, meet the federal Title IX mandate to equally serve high school girls and ensure implementation of our strict safety standards,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement. “We will continue to discuss with SSAL and are hopeful that with the league expansion, we’ll reach even more students in more schools across City.”

Garcia-Rosen’s full letter is below.

Good Morning Student-Athletes, Coaches, Administrators, and Allies,
It is with great sadness that I report we have not been able to come to an agreement with the Department of Education to continue the Small Schools Athletic League next year.

Tomorrow morning, I will file a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office of  Civil Rights stating that the New York City Department of Education is in direct violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the way they fund high school sports.

The Department of Education can’t continue to fund world class athletic programs at schools with white students, leaving the most segregated schools begging for teams year after year. On the 60th anniversary of “Brown vs The Board of Education”, it is unbelievable that New York City continues to support one of the most “separate and unequal” high school sports systems in the country.

I built this league in September of 2011, because the Public School Athletic League said there was no way for them to bring interscholastic sports to small high schools. They told me to prove it could be done. We have done that with a league that currently has over 90 teams from 42 high schools with 1700 student-athletes.

I have been in the DOE for 16 years and it has never been about simply creating and running a league.

It is about every student in New York City having the right to play high school sports.

The leadership of the DOE continues to believe offering me a job at the PSAL is the solution. They continue to defend the PSAL which is one of the most “separate and unequal” high school sports systems in the country. I can’t go work for the PSAL, when they continue to defend their current funding model at the very few meetings they grant me.

Even after receiving my research in May of 2013, they went on to make the situation worse in 2014.

In Fiscal Year 2014, the 50 high schools with the least students of color got 84 new PSAL teams, even though they already had the most. The 277 high schools with the most students of color got the same amount. Not one team was granted to the high schools that are 100% students of color.

I will continue to fight not only for the student-athletes of the SSAL, but for all the student-athletes in New York City whose lives can be changed through the power of sports. I can assure you I will not stop fighting until every student in New York City has equal access to high school sports.

I hope to see many of you at the DOE Budget hearing tomorrow morning at City Hall, 9:45 AM. I will be there with SSAL student-athletes to deliver the thousands of signatures and letters we have collected over the past year.

David Garcia-Rosen
Founder/Director Small Schools Athletic League

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.”