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The unedited classwork of a student journalist at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, currently focusing on the issues concerning the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

PTA: Parent-Teacher Aggravation

9.11.2008

The "beacon on the hill", as some refer to Elementary School 11, was once Highbridge, Bronx's most desirable public school. But acrimonious clashes between a new, tough principal and her staff have parents and educators taking sides over allegations from misuse of funds to child abuse.

Public School 11's principal Elizabeth Hachar first made headlines when she fired popular parent teacher coordinator Charles Woods on the final day of term last June. Hachar is in her third year as principal and is a graduate of the New York City Leadership Academy (NYCLA). This June NYCLA was designated the city's official principal training program in NYC's efforts to implement new "Children First" school reforms. A linchpin of the initiative is "empowerment", giving principals "broader discretion over allocating resources, choosing their staffs and creating programming", according to the New York City Department of Education's website.

Problems began before Wood's dismissal, says Nelson Mar, senior staff attorney and education law specialist at Legal Services NYC-Bronx, a civil legal service for low income individuals. On May 2nd of this year, Mar's firm, along with a coalition of community activists, teachers and staff, filed a complaint with school superintendent Dolores Desposito.

Among the allegations was a claim that Hachar's mandate to lock bathrooms led some children to soil themselves. "One mother told me her daughter had to be hospitalized because of an obstruction in her bowel," said Mar.
On Sept. 10th at the first PTA meeting of the 2008 school year, the principal addressed the bathroom issue, said attendee Theodore Garcia, first vice president of the Community Education Council for the district. Hachar "stated that 'all the teachers in the building have keys to the bathrooms to let students in'", said Garcia, but did not explain why they were locked at all. Hachar did not respond to multiple attempt s to contact her, and ordered the removal of a reporter from the September 10th PTA meeting by six police officers.

Hachar is currently under investigation because of those allegations, said Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE
Hachar is credited with raising test scores. English proficiency has nearly doubled according to data from New York State School Report Cards, the government's yearly schools assessment.

She's made other changes as well. According to the community organizer, over 30 teachers from the school's full-time teaching staff of 59 have left or been fired in the time she's held office. To compare, he says neighboring P.S. 126 has lost just 10 in the same period.
For five years as P.S. 11's PTC, Woods, 60, gained parents' trust and accrued accolades. "That first year, the mayor mentioned me in a speech," says Woods. "The question is, if someone is good enough to be recognized prestigiously in this way, what happened?"

"The question is, if someone is
good enough to be recognized
prestigiously...
what happened?"
-- Charles Woods,
Former Parent Teacher Coordinator

Woods says he was fired because he clashed with Hachar about reporting suspected child abuse -- which he believes is over-reported to the detriment of families. Over 90 parents signed a petition calling Woods' dismissal "unfair". At Sept. 10th PTA the role vacated by Woods was still unfilled. "Parents don't have anybody to go to to address their concerns", said a member of the PTA who requested to remain anonymous because of the position she holds. "I think it was done wrongfully, it was done on the hush for a reason, it was done when we were away."

Some members of the community are campaigning for her dismissal and Woods' reinstatement, but others like new parent Clara Alba, 35, whose son just entered kindergarten, are conflicted. "I have mixed opinions," said Alba. "I find her so nice at the times when we needed her help." The real problem, some contend, may be that Hachar is just a new kind of principal.

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