August Martin High School students and their parents are accusing the city of forcing their principal to resign last week, in an attempt to limit dissent before an upcoming vote on whether or not to close the Jamaica institution at the end of the month,while education officials say the new principal has an extensive background in working with struggling students and will help the school to improve.
Anthony Cromer ended his tenure as principal at August Martin last Thursday, the city Department of Education said. The new leader, Gillian Smith, the founding principal of The Facing History School in Manhattan, began the same day, according to the city.
“They wanted him to resign,” said Jose Ferruzola, the Parent Teacher Association president at August Martin. “They put him in a spot where he could resign or be let go.”
Ferruzola said the principal had a strong connection with the parents and community and argued that the city wanted to axe that connection prior to the public hearing the city will hold April 16 on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to shutter August Martin.
The mayor proposes closing 26 schools in the city, including eight in Queens, and reopening them with up to 50 percent of the teachers replaced and a new name. The city Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the measure at its April 26 meeting.
Under federal guidelines for the program Bloomberg wants to implement —known as the “turnaround” model — Cromer would have to be replaced if the city approves the plan to close the school. Principals at the 26 schools would be booted, unless they had been at the helm for less than two years.
Still, parents and students said the city should have waited until the end of the year to replace Cromer to limit the disruption in the teenagers’ lives.
Instead, parents argued the city cut Cromer loose because he has many allies in the community and was a vocal opponent of closing the school.
“He has the power with the parents and community, and they don’t like that,” Ferruzola said.
The PTA president said last Thursday that Cromer met with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Monday, and the city “called him yesterday and told him he had to leave today.”
The city DOE did not respond to a request for comment on Ferruzola’s accusations, but officials did say they believe the new principal will help August Martin, which has struggled with graduation rates and test scores, to improve.
“Our students deserve great principals, and Ms. Smith brings a wealth of experience in education,” said DOE spokesman Frank Thomas. “This is an opportunity for the faculty and students in the August Martin community.”
They also stressed that Smith has a long background of working with underprivileged youth.
A graduate of the city’s public school system, Smith went on to become a paraprofessional, teacher and assistant principal at Satellite Academy High School in Manhattan.
But students said they were distraught the principal has been replaced, and many of them called Cromer a dynamic leader who was well-liked.
“I felt really sad and bad, and I want to protest it,” said Deborah Oyebamiji, a senior and member of the student government. “I’m not happy about it. I don’t want the new principal to sign my diploma. I’ve known Principal Cromer for four years, and and we had a good friendship. All the students liked him.”
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s appointee to the PEP, who has been a vocal opponent of closing the schools, said he has written to Walcott for an explanation about Cromer, but has yet to receive a response.
“Borough President Marshall is extremely disappointed, but I’m not surprised by this action,” Fedkowskyj said. “It’s a shame that the DOE operates in this manner. The school community and members of the PEP deserve an explanation now. This decision created a lot of confusion because the educational impact statement that was released with the closure proposal made no mention of removing the principal before June 30. This decision lacked transparency, and only the CIA operates in this manner.”
Oyebamiji said she believes many students will be less inclined to work hard in Cromer’s absence.
“Now that the principal is gone, I don’t think everyone is going to want to do what they’re supposed to do,” Oyebamiji said. “Seniors might say, ‘Oh I don’t know you,’ about the new principal, and might not do what they’re supposed to. This school is closing, and now we have a new principal? Everything just changed.”
Like Oyebamiji, Ferruzola said he is worried about the impact Cromer’s absence will have on the teenagers.
“A lot of the students looked up to him, and he was a mentor to them,” Ferruzola said. “Without him, I’m afraid they’re going to drop out.”
Lipy Begum, a senior, said she began attending August Martin not long after moving from Bangladesh, and credited her former principal with helping her graduate on time.
“I’m a student from a foreign country, but I made it because of Cromer,” she said. “He did everything for me. I want him signing my diploma, not the new principal.”