Educators and legislators are calling the city Department of Education’s public comment process on the mayor’s proposal to close eight schools in Queens a sham after it was announced last week that Long Island City High School’s principal would be replaced at the end of the year —a decision they said should not have occurred until after the public hearing and subsequent vote on shuttering the institution.
Bloomberg proposes closing 26 schools across the city and reopening them with up to 50 percent of the teachers replaced and new names.
The education officials’ announcement about Long Island City’s principal, the educators and legislators argued, highlights that the city is not heeding anything the public says during a series of hearings, or will not at the upcoming vote, but instead has already decided the closures will be approved and is planning for such.
Ken Achiron, who has taught at Long Island City High School since the late 1970s, said teachers were informed last Wednesday that Maria Mamo Vacacela, the principal who has been there for less than a year, would be replaced with Vivian Selenikas, the school’s network leader and a former teacher and assistant principal at the institution, provided the city Panel for Educational Policy votes to approve the closures of 26 city schools at its April 26 meeting. The PEP is expected to give its stamp of approval because it is made up predominantly by mayoral appointees who have never rejected a proposal from Bloomberg.
Under the federal guidelines for the program that Mayor Bloomberg has proposed to implement at Long Island City High School, and the 25 other city schools, principals would need to be replaced, though there are exceptions for leaders who have been at a school for less than two years.
“I’m not going to evaluate who should be principal; that’s not my role,” Achiron said. “However, they’re announcing the replacement of a principal prior to the vote by the PEP. To me, the whole thing stinks. There’s something very fishy in this whole system.”
The DOE did not respond to a request for comment.
The DOE did confirm that Anthony Cromer, the former principal at August Martin High School in Jamaica, resigned last week and was replaced by a principal from Manhattan.
The city will hold its closure hearing on April 17 at 6 p.m. at Long Island City High School, though legislators too are wondering what good it will do.
“Many of us were concerned these public hearings were nothing but kabuki theater, that the DOE had already made its decisions and were just going through the motions,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) echoed the senator’s concerns about the school closures.
“One of the things young people need is stability —to know the school you go to and believe in is going to be there tomorrow, that the teachers you’ve come to trust are going to be there tomorrow, that the principal whose leadership you’ve come to believe in is going to be there tomorrow,” Van Bramer said. “If you take all that away, I don’t see an environment that’s conducive to learning.”