Choir Academy of Harlem Loses Latest Principal

By Jeff Mays on January 9, 2012 2:44pm 

A. Ellen Parris took over as principal of Choir Academy of Harlem when the school was in the midst of turbulence. She has now left the school.
A. Ellen Parris took over as principal of Choir Academy of Harlem when the school was in the midst of turbulence. She has now left the school.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — The Choir Academy of Harlem is once again getting a new leader.

Former principal A. Ellen Parris, who was brought in to head the school in January 2008, was denied tenure by the city's Department of Education and did not return after the holiday break on Jan. 3, 2012, a DOE spokesman confirmed.

"Dr. Parris was denied completion of her probation, and is no longer principal at Choir Academy. An experienced administrator is supervising the school as we work to identify a successor," Matt Mittenthal, deputy press secretary for the Department of Education, said in an email.

The DOE would not go into details about why Parris was no longer at the school on Madison Avenue and East 127th Street. DOE officials said she is no longer employed by the agency.

One member of the school staff said Monday that the news that Parris would no longer be principal had come as a surprise to her.

Parris could not be reached for comment.

Parris was credited by parents and teachers with helping to stabilize the school which was recently targeted for closure by the DOE. A technicality prevented the closing and the school scored well enough on subsequent evaluations to be removed from the list.

The school had had multiple principals in the five years before Parris' appointment in 2008, amid shock from the revelation that the school's founder, who also launched the Harlem Boys Choir, had covered up charges that a counselor sexually abused a student.

The school underwent another blow when the DOE co-located two schools into the building, reducing the available space.

"There was a lot of discontentment and disorganization, a lot of bad feelings that started to erode the foundation of the school. There was also a lot of resistance," Parris told DNAinfo in December 2011. "I was looked at as just another principal coming in to do what the DOE wanted."

At last year's graduation in June, where Rep. Charles Rangel was the keynote speaker, Parris said she felt the school was on a path to recovery because 70 percent of the 39 seniors were heading to college.

In her December interview with DNAinfo, Parris said she had worked hard to stabilize the school.

"It took a lot of consensus building with the goal of shifting the culture of the school and changing how people thought about the school. I wanted to bring a level of stability. More than anything else, I wanted to establish accountability, accountability, accountability. It was a challenge but we did have support from people at the DOE who wanted to see the school move forward," said Parris.

In December, she spoke of future plans for the school's curriculum, including adding an arts major and continuing to refocus the school on the performing arts such as singing, playing instruments or dance.

Parris said that although her students faced socio-economic challenges, she considered them strong.

"The kids at Choir have persevered against all odds," Parris said.

DNAinfo.com originally published a story Jan. 9 stating that Dr. Parris was the principal of The Choir Academy of Harlem. In fact, she was no longer at that position at that time.

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