Monday, June 25, 2007

Courier-Life: Canarsie HS Rallies to Save Their Principal by Michèle De Meglio...

Canarsie High School’s teachers are taking to the streets to protect their principal.

All this week, teachers are demonstrating outside of the school building to protest what they say is the city Department of Education’s (DOE) decision to remove Principal David Harris.

While a DOE spokesperson said she can’t comment on personnel matters and Harris couldn’t be reached by press time, Canarsie’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader said the department is letting the principal go.

“Principal Harris was recently notified by the DOE that he was being discontinued as of June 30,” explained K.S. Ahluwalia, who is also a biology teacher at Canarsie.

The news came as a shock to teachers who believe that Harris should have been given more time to turn the troubled high school around, as he has been principal for just two years.

In such a “short amount of time,” Ahluwalia said, “it’s not fair” to expect him to fix all of the school’s pre-existing problems.

Canarsie is on the city’s “impact” list, meaning it is one of the most dangerous schools in the five boroughs, and recently received a failing school designation when the state Education Department named it a School Under Registration Review (SURR).

In spite of these setbacks, the more than 60 teachers present at the first of the protests believe Harris is doing his best to improve Canarsie, which is located at 1600 Rockaway Parkway.

“We met collectively as a group and the staff voted that he’s an integral part of Canarsie,” Ahluwalia said.

“He’s made some good changes,” agreed Thea Platt-Glasser, a health education teacher. “He’s definitely improved safety. We’re infusing technology in the classroom more.”

“For the first time in a long time there’s been a principal who is actually a visible presence in the hallway. He’s receptive to students and teachers, he has an open door policy,” Ahluwalia said.

Even with the SURR designation, the state Education Department believed Harris should remain in charge, teachers say.

“We had the SURR committee come down,” Platt-Glasser said, “and they didn’t want Principal Harris to be removed. They wanted to give him a year to straighten out.”

With Harris leaving, teachers fear that additional changes are in store for Canarsie.

They wonder if DOE officials believe the school has had enough chances to improve and must now be closed and replaced with several small schools, which is what is happening at South Shore and Samuel J. Tilden high schools.

“They keep on closing these schools and turning them into little schools,” Platt-Glasser said. “We have teachers who are already transferring to other schools because of the fear that we’re not going to be open in September.”

Melody Meyer, a DOE spokesperson, said a meeting is scheduled for next week for regional administrators to discuss the future of Canarsie High School.

“We are meeting with the parents to address concerns and answer questions,”she said.