EXCLUSIVE: MS51’s Long Serving Principal Lenore DiLeo-Berner Retires

Lenore DiLeo-Berner, the principal of Park Slope’s MS 51 back in 2017.  Photo by Kathy Park Price, with permission.

PARK SLOPE — The Department of Education announced today that Lenore DiLeo-Berner, the principal of Park Slope’s MS 51, will be retiring, effective Monday, August 17th, less than one month before the new school year begins. She will be replaced by Interim Principal Neal L. Singh, who was most recently Assistant Principal of S.T.E.M at the Brooklyn High School of the Arts.

Interim Principal Neal L. Singh, via NYC DOE

DOE did not share the reasons for retiring, but DiLeo-Berner’s retirement announcement comes just after that of the principal of The Bronx Science, Jean Donahue announced last week her retirement at the end of August, and Eric Contreras of Stuyvesant High School left at the end of July. DOE did not immediately answer how many principals have retired or resigned since the Pandemic began. At least one, principal Dez-Ann Romain, who ran Brownsville’s Brooklyn Democracy Academy,  has died as the result of COVID-19 the week after schools closed back in March.

Just two days ago, DiLeo-Berner was one of 34 principals from District 15 who signed the letter addressed to Chancellor Richard Carranza, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo asking for in-person school reopening to be delayed.  “At this point, it is becoming abundantly clear that our schools cannot open safely and effectively on September 10th,” the letter said. “If reopening school for some in person instruction is moving forward, we ask for the following to ensure we can manage risk and ensure as safe of an opening as possible,” before outlining a long list of critical issues. 

Mayor De Blasio announced all school buildings will have a full-time nurse at a press conference today and added that “when you’re a month away from school opening, it’s understandable there’s going to be questions to still be resolved. I’d say in the middle of a crisis that we’ve never experienced before anything like it and our whole lives, of course, there’s going to be challenges, but in the end, let’s go address those challenges.” He said that principals asked for nurses, and are getting nurses, but that the rest was labor negotiations: “I mean, again, I don’t want to get confused here about this central point. Our colleagues in labor have been putting forward a series of requests and needs. We’re going to have different views on each one, but where we can get something done, we’re just announcing it. We’re saying you raised this concern, we’re answering your concern and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. But again, a month is a long time and I see a lot of educators who are focused on kids and getting ready.”

DiLeo-Berner was appointed the principal at MS51 in 2006 and talked about the school with Leslie Albrecht of DNA Info back in 2013. In the wide-ranging interview, when asked what were the challenges her school faced, Berner said that “I have pretty severe budget challenges. I’m not a Title 1 school, so it’s a constant battle to support the school. A school with high-achieving students can be a very expensive challenge, because these students in a way have special needs to keep them engaged, to keep them excited with learning. You really have to be able to provide a full program and sometimes that’s not apparent in my budget.” 

“She was the principal at MS51 since 2006 and Ms. DiLeo-Berner’s leadership was noticed not only by the school community, but also by the larger Park Slope community.  Ms. DiLeo-Berner recognized the school’s role in the community center as a hub and she prioritized community partnerships and collaboration, for example.  Every community organization in the area is familiar with the cafeteria and auditorium of MS 51 because the school welcomed neighbors to meet and connect there.  She fought for safe streets for students and neighbors as much as she advocated for her students inside the building,” Kathy Park Price, D15 parent and former CEC15 liaison to MS51, said via Facebook messenger. 

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