power struggle

City eyes Bronx AP to take over troubled Boys and Girls High School

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Boys and Girls High School may soon get a new principal.

The city is preparing to appoint a new principal to lead long-struggling Boys and Girls High School, according to multiple sources, and is leaning towards an assistant principal from the Bronx.

If the education department chooses Grecian Harrison, an assistant principal at Alfred E. Smith High School, it will have snubbed the choice of staffers and alumni at Boys and Girls. They have coalesced around Allison Farrington, the founding principal of Research and Service High School, a small school for struggling students housed inside Boys and Girls’ historic Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn campus. Sources said an announcement could come as soon as Monday.

The city has scrambled to find a new leader for Boys and Girls after Principal Michael Wiltshire decided last month to leave the school after less than two years. His abrupt departure has shaken the school at the center of the city’s high-profile turnaround program for troubled schools, leaving its future uncertain even as it remains under intense pressure to improve.

Once dubbed the “Pride and Joy of Bed-Stuy,” Boys and Girls has shrunk in size and stature in recent years. Its enrollment plunged from 2,300 students in 2010 to 340 today, and its graduation rate trails the city average by 20 points.

Wiltshire slashed the school’s suspension rate and helped lift its graduation rate 8 points, to 50 percent. But as the school braces for yet another new leader, it risks shattering those fragile gains.

Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson is said to favor Harrison to take over Boys and Girls, according to sources. (Harrison did not immediately respond to an email, and was not at Smith on Friday.) However, the education department may not have the final say: The city signed an agreement in 2014 that gave the teachers and principals unions a role in choosing any new leader for the school.

Last month, Boys and Girls’ teachers-union representative — along with members of the school’s alumni group, parent-teacher association, and school-leadership team — signed a letter to Fariña backing Farrington, along with two other potential candidates. On Friday, as word spread through the school that officials favored Harrison, the alumni group emailed Fariña to declare Farrington their chosen candidate.

Farrington referred questions to the education department, but multiple sources said she had interviewed for the position and was scheduled to meet with Fariña last week before the meeting was unexpectedly cancelled.

Boys and Girls staffers and alumni said she is extremely popular among those who know her. To assist Research and Service students who are impoverished or homeless, she created a food pantry in the building and installed a washer and dryer, said Sam Penceal, a leader of Boys and Girls’ alumni group. She has also lured students to school on Friday by cooking them breakfast, and offers them after-school and Saturday tutoring.

“This is the sort of thing that ought to be a model of what needs to happen in” Boys and Girls, Penceal said. A person who works at Boys and Girls said that community is “1000 percent backing her.”

The letter writers asked Fariña for more input in the principal-hiring process. “We deserve the right to select a leader from within our campus village who will hit the ground running in the right direction on Day 1,” they wrote.

People at Boys and Girls said they had not met Harrison, despite their calls for a role in the search. On Friday, as Harrison’s name circulated as the department’s top pick, several people connected to the school complained about being shut out of the decision-making process.

“They talk about community engagement,” one Boys and Girls staffer said, “but when we’re engaged, they don’t listen to us.”

Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye did not answer questions on Friday about the principal search, but said a decision was on the way.

“We look forward to building on the progress of Boys and Girls with a new principal, whom we expect to announce soon,” she said in a statement.

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.”