1999-07-03 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

I said last week that I would not write another School Scope this year unless something unusual happened, and of course, it did.

The day after I wrote those words, District 27 school superintendent Brenda Isaacs was summarily dismissed, fired, forced to resign, forced to retire, retired on her own volition (pick any one of your choice).

Let me say first of all that Rudy Crew does not know how to deal with his subordinates. When a person works for one firm (even if that firm is the City of New York) for 38 years, he or she deserves some rachmones (that translates, I think, to consideration, goodness).

Brenda reportedly was told after a meeting with Crew that he would let her know what was going on. He did not call that day, or the next. He reportedly finally called her at 4 p.m. on Wednesday and told her that he was announcing her retirement in a half-hour.

Then, he announced that she was fired, only to change his mind right after the announcement to announce that she was going to retire.

That is no way to treat somebody with 38 years in the business. In any other circumstance, the manager would be called in and quietly told to "put in your papers."

Perhaps Crew’s meeting the night before with Al Sharpton sharpened Crew’s people skills. Perhaps Al explained to Rudy how racial politics was played.

Certainly, Crew learned the lesson well.

In terms of all of the city’s schools, District 27 was not a "low-performing district." It was 18 among the 32 districts. That means that there were 17 districts that did better and 14 that did worse. It was the lowest performing district in Queens, something that was expected because the Rockaway schools (with the exception of PS 114) are traditionally among the lowest in the city.

Isaacs is not gone because she led a low-performing district. She is not gone because of a "failure of leadership." She is gone because she is a white woman in the lowest performing district in Queens and because race played a hand in the decision as it does in every decision in this city.

Crew needed some white people to balance off the black and Hispanic superintendents he was cutting in the Bronx and Manhattan. He found two white women who were vulnerable–-a white Jew in Brooklyn and a white Christian in Queens. Nice balance, don’t you think? By the way, all of the minority super-intendents he fired have been rehired for jobs at the central board. Those in Queens and Brooklyn have not.

There is no doubt in my mind that other political considerations played a part in her retirement as well.

The anger of a small group of parents at the principal of PS 114 (the best-performing school in the district) caused her political problems. That group included Democratic insiders and they got Chuck Schumer and Tony Weiner involved. Councilman Al Stabile has a long-standing grudge against Isaacs that he enunciated in public on numerous occasions. Why was Stabile angered at Isaacs? I believe the reports that he demanded that she appoint administrators of his choosing to mainland schools and she refused. She was right and he was wrong, but that does not matter in a high-charged political en-vironment.

Three high-powered legislators is a hand that is hard to beat.

In addition, controversy over the overcrowding issue on the mainland, particularly at JHS 226, caused her political damage.

There is no way of knowing just what precipitated Crew’s decision, whether it was the racial politics of Al Sharpton or the political damage done by taking a number of stands that she believed in.

It seems to me that both politics and race played a part in the decision. If not, why are there 14 superintendents whose scores were worse than ours still working at their jobs?

Isaacs recently sent a letter to the school community. The letter says it all.

"In recent weeks, there has been much that has been written in newspapers that is disheartening. Despite what has been said, CSD 27 is not a ‘low performing district’ – we rank eighteenth among the City School districts. At the same time, we acknowledge that there are low performing schools in the district that need to improve performance. This need exists in every school because we believe that we can always do better. But, each and every day, the parents, staff and supervisors dedicated themselves to finding solutions to the problems that exist. Without exception, in every school in this district, the school community works together to provide a warm, safe, nurturing and sound educational environment for children. Your performance is admirable.

" We have fought for more space for our children; we have restructured schools; we have developed new curriculum guides; we have embraced the New Standards fir English Language Arts and Mathematics; we have implemented School Leadership Teams so all stakeholders in our schools are represented; we have worked towards preparing team members to learn about the budget process; we have involved all constituents in conducting PASS Reviews; and, most of all, we have learned to look at our school’s needs and develop educational plans that form the basis for improving teaching, learning and instruction. We have fought long and hard to improve our schools. We take pride in our accomplishments so that student performance will continue to improve. We must continue to let our voices be heard as we share our belief in the children and schools in this district."

There is a movement in the district among both parents and staff to forward a petition with thousands of signatures to Crew. That petition will ask Crew to reconsider and to keep Isaacs in the job.

I have been in this district since 1982. There is no doubt in my mind that she is the finest superintendent we have had since that time. Look at the list: Marvin Aaron, Jo Schwindt, Col Genn and Beverly Hall. It is not a list to be proud of. Brenda Isaacs does not belong on that list because she is a tough, knowledgeable, fair-minded administrator. Most of the others were charlatans or were "heroes" who left their friends twisting in the wind.

The short list of in-district people who might replace her is an eclectic one. There are three principals who are mentioned most often. Matt Bromm is the principal of JHS 210. He is the local leader of the Principal’s union. He is knowledgeable, but lacks district office experience. He would bring some stability if he were chosen as the acting, however. Rhia Warren is the principal of JHS 226. She runs a good building. She is an up and coming star (the First Lady recently visited her school) and she will be a superintendent somewhere, some day. She lacks district office ex-perience and it might not yet be her time. Guy Rossiello is the principal of PS 207 in Howard Beach. He wants the job so badly he can taste it. He reportedly has the support of City Councilman Al Stabile. He has no district office experience. In fact, he was removed from his school this year by the district for a short time because of an infraction of State regulations. He is mercurial and a game player. I would not like to see him as superintendent.

The one candidate with experience both in schools and in the district office is Ken Grover, the present Deputy Superintendent. I like him for the job, but he probably will not get is because he is closely associated with Brenda.

There is some question of who will pick the acting superintendent. The school board seems to believe that the choice belongs to them. The Chancellor reportedly has other ideas. There are all sorts of possibilities for outside people taking over the district. In that case, it is traditional for a new superintendent to bring loyal people with him or her. In that case, there might well be a house cleaning at the district level.

In any case, the acting interim person will serve until the process for choosing a new superintendent is completed. That process involves both the school board and parent groups. Crew, however, has the final say.

That is a shame, particularly if that racial arsonist, Al Sharpton is driving his agenda. If that is the case, we are all doomed.


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