The new school year will begin with high stakes for Charles O. Dewey, a Sunset Park middle school trying to attract more white and middle-class families in a district-wide effort to better integrate schools. Staff and students will face that challenge without long-time principal Eric Sackler. 

After about 14 years leading the school, Sackler is retiring, the education department announced. Amanda Bueno, a math and dual language expert for Brooklyn schools, will serve as interim acting principal, effective two days before students start class. 

The school will be rebranded as a “School for Diplomacy and International Cooperation,” with a new French program and plans to add a dual language Mandarin class next year, the education department also announced. Language programs have been seen as a tool to attract more diverse families.  

Dewey has long served mostly students who have previously struggled in school, likely a byproduct of an admissions system that has allowed schools to set competitive admissions standards. This year, however, the district eliminated the use of screens and instituted a lottery in a bid to better integrate schools. 

Amanda Bueno
PHOTO CREDIT: NYC Department of Education

To try to convince more white and middle-class families to enroll, Sackler made personal phone calls and showed up to parent meetings in the district’s elementary schools, the Wall Street Journal reported. Still, about 50 families appealed their placement in the school, leaving the impact of the district’s integration efforts uncertain. 

In a letter to parents, Sackler does not explain his reason for leaving.

“It is with mixed emotions and a deep sense of sadness that I formally announce my retirement,” he wrote. “I am positive that our school and its students will continue to grow and thrive, and this is due in no small measure to our united efforts.”

Bueno said she expects the transition to be “seamless,” as she has already been working alongside her predecessor this summer. As the school and the district make integration a goal, she said she hopes that Dewey will be able to attract a diversity of parents to its PTA and leadership teams, to “help spread the word about everything great that’s happening.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about engaging families in a way that all voices feel heard and feel valued, and that some voices don’t overpower others,” she said. 

The education department said families will have opportunities to meet with Bueno when the new year starts. The formal process to find a permanent replacement will begin this fall, officials said.