On The NY Post’s Coverage of Troubles at It Takes A Village Academy

May 29, 2019 by

“It is the song that never ends.”  Remember that catchy tune that goes into perpetual reprise? 

Not unlike newspaper stories about incompetent and sometimes venal principals who run their schools into the ground, demoralize their staffs, freeze their students in fear and ignorance and yet remain ensconced in the leadership positions with the blessings and excuse-makings of the Department of Education which advocates for them no matter how dysfunctional they are.

Because of media exposure, these tales of woe drive the DOE’s legal and publicity departments to swing into action to create the illusion that they are seeking to correct the problem. They keep up this pretense until the heat starts to die down. In such cases, they may re-assign the principal to an unsupervised desk job, performing the kind of clerical tasks associated with a minimum wage employee.

For this, they will be pulling down a salary and benefits package that exceeds $200,000 a year. Eventually they’ll either get their old job back, a similar post in a different venue, a leadership role in a newly created division that looks good on paper, or some other non-punitive situation.

Their careers remain viable, safe and prosperous.

The laugh is on the taxpayer.

The New York Post is always on the prowl for inflammatory stories about the Department of Education which, being easy prey, provides red meat for the tabloid’s insatiable and rapacious appetite.  Usually, it is a ridiculously unbalanced presentation, especially when the focus is on teachers and the union they passionately support by a spectacular margin.  But sometimes the Post fairly spotlights failed leadership and its consequences to teaching, learning and communities.

Last week’s story about “It Takes A Village Academy” in Flatbush, included some details that were hair-raising and verifiable. Clearly, the current interim acting principal, Sybil Girard, doesn’t have the skill or desire to deal with the daily menacing and violence that staff and students endure there: students threatening to show up at a teacher’s home, beat up a pregnant staff member, fracturing a school safety agent’s arm, etc. 

In 2017-18, only 2 percent of students earned Regents diplomas at the school. That’s less than one-ninth in the previous year. Ms. Girard has not yet been permanently appointed as principal, but the way the DOE operates, her disastrous reign so far will be no impediment to her security.

Brooklyn high school Superintendent Prayor thumbed his nose at the staff’s May Day call for rescue by refusing to bounce interim acting Principal Girard, though he dispatched an additional principal to piggy-back and keep her company at a combined salary of over $327,200,  excluding benefits. That’s for a school with around 650 kids.

Doug Cohen, the DOE’s spokesman, gave a boilerplate response to the crisis brought to his attention: “We’ll continue to take action to meet the needs of our students and staff.” So cynical!  He certainly knows his job,takes it seriously and wants dearly to keep it.

It took Sybil Girard less than a year to fully collapse a school that was already teetering under its former principal, Marina Vinitskaya, who was re-assigned in November, 2017, for failure to notify the police of an alleged sexual assault of a student.  What has become of her? Her punishment is admirably lucrative: she’s still in a DOE location pulling down $186,368 a year.  I’m sure she’s a model worker.

The DOE has made some commendable strides since the dark days of former Mayor Bloomberg’s Chancellors Klein and Walcott.  But for some unfathomable reason, it stays inextricably stuck and mired in the mindset that supervisors must be shielded from the spoils of their own failure and unworthiness.

Ron Isaac

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