Parents protest DOE choice for acting principal

April 30, 2014 Heather Chin
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Parents at P.S. 169 in Sunset Park are crying foul, claiming that District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop has neglected the well-being of their school and students by not following the proper C-30 committee process to appoint an interim acting (IA) principal, dismissing parents’ concerns when she announced that a new IA principal would arrive on May 5, and disregarding the contributions and candidacy of the current unofficial IA principal, Joseph Iorio.

The issue began in September, 2013 with the sudden retirement and departure of long-time principal Josephine Santiago just weeks into the school year. This threatened to leave P.S. 169, at 4305 Seventh Avenue, without a guiding force, say parent leaders, especially since Santiago’s preferred successor, building supervisor Joseph Iorio, was then in poor health and declined to take on the role of IA principal officially concerned that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill the duties.

However, since no IA principal was chosen by November as planned, Iorio ended up filling the principal role on a temporary basis anyway. A 30-year veteran educator, Iorio has since tackled teacher morale by holding weekly staff breakfasts in order to encourage collaboration, addressed student safety by implementing lockdown drills, focused on test preparation and student well-being by holding morning study sessions before tests, and displayed general appreciation for everyone in the school community.

Ideally, Iorio would be appointed IA principal himself or at least finish out the school year, said PTA President Debbie Rius andPTA Vice President Steven Mayorga, himself an alum.

However, they say that Skop has refused to communicate with them clearly and in a timely manner, even expressing surprise that parents were speaking up instead of just accepting the decision.

“There are people who ask ‘why not leave it alone?’” said Rius. “I can’t. I work for my parents and my parents have concerns. I’m making some enemies, but we have over 600 parent signatures and over 100 letters [protesting the way the IA principal appointment is being made].”

At least some teachers share parents’ concerns. “Interim acting principals are to be used when exigent circumstances exist,” noted teacher Sardah Giraud in a written statement. “What is the emergency and why are we, parents and teachers, not privy to this vital information?

“Early in 2013, the principal abruptly retired and we were assured by our network that we would be supported and have a new principal by November,” Giraud added. “The storm has subsided, and for the powers that be to now [appoint] an IA principal has some questioning the underlying motivation. This isn’t a monopoly. We deserve better.”

Local elected officials are also weighing in.

“As parents, we work hard to provide our children with the best resources and opportunities available [and] parents at P.S. 169have joined forces to demonstrate their concern to put their children’s needs first,” said Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. “They’ve put a lot of thought and effort to demand to be heard.It is my hope that the DOE will reconsider its approach and work collaboratively with our schools/parents/communities.”

The DOE did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

A meeting between parents and District 15 Superintendent Skop was scheduled for Wednesday, April 30—not at P.S. 169, but at P.S. 24 at 427 38thStreet.

A rally is also being planned for the morning of Monday, May 5, outside the school, to greet the new interim acting principal on her first day.

“It’s not the principal,” Giraud, the teacher, maintained, “it’s the principle.”

Rius added, “Personally, I feel bad for her because she’s coming into this and is going to be overwhelmed. Iorio is going to keep helping her [transition] anyway, so I proposed to Skop, why not bring her in just to work with him first and then install her in September?”

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