Following recent struggles with some parents and at PS/MS 282 on 6th Avenue, Principal Magalie Alexis reportedly left the position last week to spend more time with her family.
A letter sent to parents by Barbara Freeman, Superintendent of Community School District 13, notes that Principal Alexis “decided to take a leave of absence” for family reasons. Meanwhile, a statement sent to the school from Council Member Brad Lander calls her departure a resignation.
We’ve reached out to the Department of Education, but have yet to receive confirmation about whether or not Mrs. Alexis will not be returning to the school as its principal.
“I am working closely with the capable team of educators at PS 282, and with the school’s network support team, to ensure that our students remain focused and engaged in the classroom throughout this transition,” Superintendent Freeman’s letter reads. “I ask that you help me to continue the dialogue that we have begun here at school to help your child feel informed and secure.”
That “dialogue” appears to have involved some parents who felt Principal Alexis should be removed, butting heads against those who were happy with her leadership and decision-making over the course of her 10 years with the school. Parents we spoke to reported some tension between zoned families, many of whom are white; families of the racially diverse group of students who attend from outside of the zone (being under-enrolled, many students at 282 come from outside); and Principal Alexis, who is black. Still, some parents also noted that the group pushing for a change in leadership, which they say grew to a few dozen people, represented all races.
“My office has heard from many parents about the struggles at the school in recent times,” said Council Member Lander, whose district lines changed this year to include the 282 community, in his statement to the school. Lander added that “there are many concerns to be grappled with following this announcement,” and hinted at race issues that have been bubbling at the surface.
“I am especially pleased that District 13 (both the superintendent and the CEC) have taken real leadership on issues of diversity,” Lander wrote. “Even in a gentrifying neighborhood, within a too-highly-segregated school system, I deeply believe that with joint efforts and shared commitment, PS/MS 282 can remain a diverse and inclusive school.”
He also touted Principal Alexis’ work, saying he had toured the school with her, had attended to a PTO meeting, and had taken part in some school events.
“Principal Alexis has been a dedicated advocate for the students and creative in identifying and implementing programs to support and inspire them,” he wrote — and a number of parents seem to agree. In a letter sent last month in advance of PTO elections, a group of Principal Alexis’ supporters, calling themselves Iam282forPrincipalAlexis, listed many of her accomplishments — including support that got the school’s winning chess team started, an extended swimming program, class trips to places well beyond the city limits, professional development for staff, and more.
“PS/MS 282 may be going through some struggles right now,” said the group’s letter, “however, the way to be successful is to work together with Mrs. Alexis, and not conspire behind her back and that of the majority of parents.”
Though none of the parents we spoke to were willing to talk publicly on the matter, commenters on forums like UrbanBaby and Park Slope Parents have posted reactions to the school and its principal in the past.
“People like it for the early grades,” one wrote on UrbanBaby. “But apparently the principal is not very friendly or flexible and drives Park Slopers (read: white people) away.”
Another, on Park Slope Parents, referred to Principal Alexis as “totally inaccessible.”
A story about the rumors and race relations at the school that appeared in DNAinfo in 2012 cited troubling statistics that could indicate another level of concern — that of the relationships between teachers and the principal. It noted a high teacher turnover rate and results from the DOE’s Learning Environment Survey that showed “most teachers said they don’t trust the principal.”
“There is no way for teachers to be heard,” one teacher who left in 2011 is noted as saying on Inside Schools. “She cares about the kids, but if you cross her as a teacher, she will make your life very difficult.”
In 2010, Principal Alexis came under scrutiny when she reportedly excluded three teachers from a ceremony honoring a fellow teacher. The Daily News said those teachers claimed the move was made to “cover up problems at the school.”
We’ve contacted the United Federation of Teachers for a comment on behalf of Mrs. Alexis, but have not received a response.
Now may be a difficult time for the school community, but as Council Member Lander notes, everyone involved must work to build a stronger, and more connected, 282 — a process that’s already begun.
“I have full confidence,” says Lander’s statement, “that the Department of Education leadership – from Chancellor Fariña to Superintendent Barbara Freeman — will work with the school community to find a new leader that recognizes what must be maintained, what must be grown, and what must be rebuilt.”
If you’re a parent at 282, what’s your experience been? Do you feel there’s been racial tension at the school? Do you see the loss of Principal Alexis as a stumbling block for the growing student community, or do you think a change in leadership is the answer?