2011-07-15 / Columnists

East End Matters...

DOE Superintendent Wrong On Firing Principal
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Most of us remember that one teacher who made a difference in our lives. We hope that the children we care about also find that special person to inspire them. For the young people at the Queens High School for Information, Research and Technology (QIRT), located on the Far Rockaway High School Campus, that person has been their principal, Michele Williams.

Her students feel so strongly about what Williams has done for them that the unusual happened earlier this month. On a hot summer evening, just days after being let out for the year, these students voluntarily returned to the school to protest the abrupt firing of their principal.

Williams’ three-year probationary period was coming to an end and Queens Superintendent Juan Mendez decided not to reappoint her. He cited low scores in some of the regents exams. Williams pointed to the fact that those classes were miscoded, which made scores lower than they actually were.

Mendez said he saw no textbooks during his classroom instruction inspection.

Use of textbooks, he says, is a requirement in his district. Students told him that QIRT is a technical school, thus they do their work online, without use of textbooks.

The Superintendent said that by the fourth year of a school “you want as strong data as possible [for the state]. Because, that represents you as a community.” He said it is his job to make sure that data is there. Parents say the ‘data’ to examine is the progress their children have steadily made. They asked Mendez how he could quote regents numbers when the latest exams were not considered. Parents asked how he could “quantify” graduation rates to them when the first graduating class is not until next June.

While the DOE has no report card for the school since it has not yet graduated a class, Williams has data of her students’ progress that includes the recent regent exams. Of the students who just completed ninth, 10th and 11th grades, between 75 and 80 percent in each class are on track for college. Of those same students, between eight and 11 percent in each class are almost on track. Finally, eight and a half percent of ninth graders, 15 percent of 10th graders and 14 percent of 11th graders will need extra help in reaching the needed credits.

Some of these numbers may not be great, but they are not horrible either, especially when you consider where these students were when they first came to QIRT. According to the school, “Over 50 percent of QIRT 10th and 11th graders graduated middle school with less than a 65 percent average. Students, who had failing grades at the middle school level, are now averaging a 70 percent [to] 80 percent GPA at QIRT.”

What’s more, they want to come to school. When the school first opened it took six months to get the students to trust the teachers. “The kids were used to failure. There was a distrust the students had for the teachers,” said Williams.

So, where do we go from here? The superintendent did not say whether the decision was final. He said he would take all he heard at the meeting back for consideration. Yet, he was overheard telling the parent association president that the decision is ultimately his.

To pull the rug out from under Williams and her students one year short of the first graduating class is wrong. If some students go through with what they said on July 6, then the superintendent will have a self-fulfilled prophecy. He quoted data for a graduation that hasn’t yet occurred. Students getting ready to go into the 12th grade told The Wave they would not return to QIRT without Williams as the principal. Fewer students in the graduating class equals a lower graduation rate.

Most importantly, Williams has these students believing in themselves. They believe that, in their principal’s words, “failure is not an option.” They push themselves to succeed when previously they wouldn’t have cared.

Mendez talked about community. If he was really listening then he heard the community speak loud and clear. Michele Williams should be brought back as principal of QIRT.

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