2001-07-07 / Columnists

School Scope by Howard Schwach

Leon Dash is an assistant principal at MS 210, a mainland school where superintendent Matt Bromme was once the principal.

Leon and I go way back. When I first came to district 27 almost 20 years ago, Leon was at IS 53. I had left teaching MIS II at PS 329 in Coney Island to move to a MIS II position at that school.

Leon was the unit’s Crisis Intervention Teacher and a sort of assistant principal without portfolio.

He was the best I have ever seen dealing with emotionally handicapped students, with parents and with the teachers in the unit. He was invariably fair with all of those groups and he earned the respect of all of those he worked with.

Leon moved on to MS 180 and then to MS 210 as an assistant principal and we lost touch.

I give this background so that you will understand that when Leon Dash speaks, everybody listens.

Leon called me at The Wave last week, very disturbed and very frustrated.

"Rhia Warren is leaving the system," Leon told me without much small talk. "She is going to become the principal of East Islip High School."

Rhia Warren is a long-time Rockaway resident. She was recently designated as a "Black Woman of Distinction" by York College. Her husband is John Warren, who played ball for St. John’s and the pros. They still live in Rockaway. Leon and she are good friends as well as colleagues.

I worked in Warren’s building, MS 226, as a staff developer for a year and she is, in my opinion, one of the best middle school principals in the district and perhaps in the city. She runs a good building and both her students and her teachers react well to her.

I was not surprised to hear of her leaving. I had heard that she had medical problems last school year and that she was not much in favor in our district office, an office that prizes loyalty and connections more than it does the ability to do the job.

Despite what the mayor continues to say, thousands of good teachers and administrators are leaving at the end of the school year just past for greener pastures.

I was not surprised at her leaving, but I was surprised at Dash’s retelling of the reasons that she is leaving.

"We all talk about how minority kids need role models," Dash continued. "Rhia was a role model in every sense of the word – not only to the girls in her school, but to the boys as well."

Then Dash went into why she had decided to leave, and her reasons were not what I expected. I expected to hear that she left because of the increase in salary she would earn in East Islip or that the population of her school was changing and that discipline had become a major problem.

Instead, Dash told me that she did not want to leave and did not leave for any of those usual reasons.

"Rhia is a committed person and she wanted to say," he told me. "She did not want to abandon her school or her community."

Rather, he said, it was superintendent Matt Bromme and those in his office who forced her to leave.

"She had a heart problem and they continually came after her," he told me.

"She had a meeting with Bromme a few weeks ago, and when she came out, her blood pressure was so high that she had to be medicated," he said.

"The climate in this district forces good people to leave."

I asked Dash if he wanted me to use his name. I know from personal experience how vindictive this district office can be about people it considers to be "disloyal."

"I want you to use my name," he said. "If they want to come after me, let them try,"

That is how angry Dash is. He is willing to take the heat for the few years he has left because he knows that the district office is destroying the morale of both teachers and supervisors with its bullying tactics and threats, with its demand for the undoable and with its quotas for failure.

Leon Dash is courageous in his stand. I really believe that others should speak up and join him in fighting the deterioration of a once-great district by a leader and a staff who are more often dictatorial that collegial.

Things are going from bad to worse. A few dozen supervisors and tens of dozens of teachers are leaving.

Many are retiring or taking terminal leave because of the contract and because there is no longer any discipline in the schools.

They are also leaving because of the stupidy of a district that puts a premium on lesson plans and bulletin boards rather than on what is going on in the classroom between teachers and students.

We need more people such as Leon Dash, those who are willing to speak up for what they believe in – to speak up about what is happening in District 27.

Perhaps Dash’s example will bring them forward. Perhaps not. It is difficult to speak out when punishment is sure to be swift and painful.

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