Boys and Girls Principal May Step Down Over New Co-Location Plan

By Paul DeBenedetto on October 30, 2013 8:45am 

 Boys & Girls High School Principal Bernard Gassaway said he may step down over a new co-location plan for his school.
Boys & Girls High School Principal Bernard Gassaway said he may step down over a new co-location plan for his school.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Enough is enough.

Boys and Girls HS principal Bernard Gassaway may step down from his position as head of the venerable Bed-Stuy establishment if the city goes through with a plan to add another co-located school to the facility, the educator told DNAinfo New York.

The city Department of Education on Monday announced a Dec. 11 hearing date to add an as-of-yet unnamed high school, known internally as K765, to the 1700 Fulton St. building, making it the third school to be located inside the facility.

This year, a transfer school called Research and Service High School opened in the building, sharing space with Boys and Girls.

But unlike Research and Service, Gassaway said he was not asked for his input about K765, and that he was skeptical it would fit with his vision for Boys and Girls.

"I'm not the kind of principal who likes this kind of model," Gassaway said. "If they asked me if I wanted to be a principal of a school with three principals, my answer would be no. Because I'd have to buy into the model, and right now I don't."

The DOE said it chose the school because of its low utilization rate. Right now, the building is about 33 percent utilized, with more than 80 rooms in excess, according to the agency.

With the new school, Boys and Girls will be about 50 percent utilized, according to DOE estimates.

"A once broken system has been transformed with new, high performing schools – and those additional options have delivered extraordinary outcomes for children," a DOE spokesman said. "Our strategy has worked, and with this new school, that progress will continue.”

But Gassaway suggested that the confusion that would come with three separate schools in one building — coordinating public address announcements, hallway traffic and school policies — would prove too difficult to manage.

"Even addressing the students, you have to say, 'is this a kid in my school, or is this a student of another school?'" Gassaway said.

Despite its long history as a revered educational institution in Bed-Stuy, Boys and Girls High School has gone through a period of decline in the last few years.

Problems in the school came to light in 2005, when a class-action lawsuit against the DOE alleged that then-principal Spencer Holder sequestered problem students in the school's auditorium away from their fellow classmates, eventually expelling them from the school altogether. The city settled the suit in 2008.

Holder's predecessor, Frank Mickens, a popular principal known as a tough disciplinarian, was accused by education advocates of similar tactics during his tenure.

By the time Gassaway took over "the Pride and Joy of Bed-Stuy" in 2009, the school had come under court monitoring, the principal said, and during his tenure, the school began to slide, garnering a C from the DOE in his first year, and an F in each of the next two.

But Gassaway said he shrugged off the department grades, arguing that socioeconomic status in the largely-low-income neighborhood contributed to the school's downfall, and was unafraid of implementing new plans to try and move the school forward.

"In a world of quick, fast, fix it — that's not the way it works," Gassaway said. "Not everyone starts and ends at the same pace."

Despite the poor grades, low graduation rates and underutilization, the school remained open, thanks in part to a powerful group of allies on the school's community advisory board, including state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblywoman Annette Robinson and especially, Gassaway said, outgoing City Councilman Albert Vann, who has steered millions of dollars over the years toward helping the school.

Community advisory board member and former council candidate Rev. Conrad Tillard of Nazarene Congregational Church summed up the board's perception of Gassaway.

"I think the principal is an outstanding principal at his heart, and I support him," Tillard said. "The majority of kids that will end up at a Boys and Girls, they don't have a whole lot of options. You have low-performing schools in the context of low socioeconomic communities, and I think it's important that maybe we come up with a different yard stick."

The principal said he would discuss his future over the next few weeks with members of the community, but that even if his time at Boys and Girls comes to an end, he's confident that the school can turn around.

"You have a vision," Gassaway said. "That vision, to whatever extent, becomes actualized. And now it may take another leader to take it to the next level. I'm fine with that."

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