Holt To Leave BCHS in February
Battle Over Principal’s Job Began In September
By Howard Schwach
Despite the fact that nobody, from Andrea Holt herself to The Department of Education will corroborate the strong rumor that the newly-appointed principal of Beach Channel High School will be leaving her position on February 1, there is little doubt in the school community that a new acting principal will be appointed to the school as early as the second week in February.
Holt, who was appointed as acting principal in September to replace Bernard Gassaway, who became a deputy to the High School Superintendent for Alternative Programs, has had problems at the school right from the beginning.
In October, The Wave broke the story that Holt had sent letters to hundreds of parents telling them that their children were going to be taken off the rolls of the school because they were "not making adequate progress towards graduation."
Many of those students were sixteen and seventeen year olds, students that the school must retain by state law.
More recently, parents charged that the administration was "losing control" over the school after a series of events that necessitated intervention by both the police and the emergency medical system.
It is clear that the parents, with the assistance of several of the school’s staff members and administrators, have been attempting to rid the school of Holt almost from the beginning of the year.
On November 26, the school’s Parent Teacher Association sent a letter to John Lee, the Superintendent of Queens High Schools, asking that one of the school’s present assistant principals, Claude Monerau, be appointed as principal.
"The Parent Teacher Association believes that the only way to maintain the continuity and the positive gains made at our school is with the selection of Claude Monerau as principal," the letter says. The letter was signed by five of the organization’s officers.
On October 9, Regine Lifranc, as assistant principal (and parent of a student at BCHS) sent a letter to Chancellor Joel Klein.
In her letter, Lifranc says that Holt called students at the school "riff raff" and "garbage."
According to Lifranc, the "riff raff" comment was made over the hand-held radios and was overheard by at least one school security officer. The "garbage" comment, Lifranc says, was made at a meeting late in the summer, even before the beginning of the school year.
On November 26, six of the school’s assistant principals wrote a three-page letter to Chancellor Klein. Only one of the school’s AP’s declined to sign the letter.
According to the letter, Holt held a meeting with her cabinet early that morning at which she berated the assistant principals, telling them, "Cooperate with me, or you’re out. If you can’t do your job, I’ll do it for you and then deal with you later."
"This is my meeting and I am the principal," she told them when they questioned what she meant. "You can take this anyway you want."
The letter went on to say that there had been retribution by both Holt and Superintendent Lee against both Lifranc and Monereau since the superintendent received the formers letter.
On December 8, the Administrative Dean, Michael Lipka, sent a letter outlining a number of assaults and other incidents at the school that had not been properly addressed by the administration.
"Due to the principal’s blatant disregard of the Chancellor’s Regulation, discipline codes and specific guidelines for reporting safety violations and serious incidents, and in not pursuing the mandated Superintendent’s suspense’s, students and staff at BCHS are placed at increased and unnecessary risk," the dean wrote.
Despite all that, however, there are those who continue to support Holt.
In fact, they posit a campaign to remove Holt and place Monereau in the principal’s slot in her stead.
"She (Holt) started on the wrong foot and she suffered for it with her own staff," says Scott Pecoraro, the schools chairperson for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). "The school is not out of control."
Pecoraro blames President Bush’s "No Child Left Behind" law in part for the problems the school faces this year.
"The law disrupted our normal zoning patterns," the UFT Chair said. "We got a lot of diversions from kids who normally would have gone to Far Rockaway High School and that became a problem."
"We got more than 200 kids from the 11691 zip code," he added. "We just were not ready for the increase in population."
Pecoraro defended the school.
"Given what I hear when the chairpersons from all the school in Queens get together, there are other schools that have problems that would spin your head. We don’t have that."
Joseph Gargiulo, the Assistant Engineer at the school for the past 16 years, agrees.
"Holt came to the school as the new person in town. She needed the support of her assistant principals and she did not get it," he says. "They come down on her and says that she is not doing her job. She has been here for three months. The people undermining her are doing so for their own agenda, for their own reasons."
Gargiulo blames the school’s problems on space and on the fact that the school’s population increased from 2,600 students last year to 3,600 this year without the planning necessary for the increase.
"We need more space," he says. "There are six bathrooms and one cafeteria for 3,600 students. There are 38 kids in each classroom. The cafeteria is so overcrowded with 700 kids in each lunch period that things get crazy."
He says that part of the problem comes from the fact that PS 232, a special ed facility that shares the building, takes a cafeteria, nine bathrooms and 21 classrooms from the high school program.
Education Department offices take still more valuable space.
"Holt is a strong Black woman who wants what’s best for the kids," Gargiulo told The Wave. ‘They (the other assistant principals) attacked her right from the beginning and convinced the parents that she was not doing the job."
"Holt is focusing on how to establish an educational climate in the school and fight the laws that make it impossible for her to do her job," the engineer adds.
"This has become a turf war, pure and simple," he concludes. "And, the kids are going to suffer for it."