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Parents Looking to Oust East Harlem Principal Hand Petition to Chancellor

By  William Mathis and Amy Zimmer | April 21, 2016 3:41pm 

 Supporters of a petition to remove embattled Central Park East One Principal Monika Garg gather at a Panel for Education Policy hearing on April 20, 2016.
Supporters of a petition to remove embattled Central Park East One Principal Monika Garg gather at a Panel for Education Policy hearing on April 20, 2016.
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DNAinfo/William Mathis

LOWER EAST SIDE — Supporters of a legendary progressive East Harlem elementary school presented Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña with a petition Wednesday night to remove the school’s controversial principal from her post.

More than 2,000 people have signed the petition to oust principal Monika Garg from the helm at Central Park East I (CPE I), following allegations that she's been trying to erode the school's groundbreaking philosophy of child-centered, inquiry-based learning in favor of a more traditional model.

“The idea of progressive education is to have collaboration and understanding between the teachers and the principal, and that has not happened," said Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, a parent of a pre-K student at CPE 1, who spoke at the Panel for Education Policy meeting on the Lower East Side.

"With Monica Garg staying at the school we don't have a future and our teachers don't have this collaborative environment," she added.

Salas-Ramirez was among a group of parents, teachers and former students at the meeting, clad in T-shirts that said "40 years of progressive education" and waving homemade signs that said "CPE."

"I am living proof that progressive education does work," said alumna Maya Delmont, 12, who attended CPE I from pre-k until she finished fifth grade in 2014 and said the school’s progressive model rather than focus on test-taking made her who she is.

“When I heard that this new principal was coming in and saying that progressive education does not work, I found that absurd,” Delmont said, drawing roars of applause from the group.

Delmont then delivered the petition to the stage where the chancellor presided over the Panel for Education Policy meeting.

More than 60 percent of current families and over 2,100 others have signed the petition according to the group Save CPE1.

Fariña did not say anything at the meeting, but DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye later said the schools chief was working to help the school.

"The Chancellor recognizes the need to create and build mutual trust at this school," Kaye said. "She has directed the senior superintendent and community superintendent to support the principal through this process and meet with all members of the school community including teachers and parents. The senior superintendent will continue to regularly visit the school."

CPE1 teacher Jim Shoaf, who also attended Wednesday's meeting, told DNAinfo he was frustrated with the way Garg runs the school.

"I'm here to bring to the forefront that we have an inappropriate leader for our school,” Shoaf said. “[Garg] has no experience in progressive education, and her tenure has not shown an ability to effectively engage parents and teachers in furthering the mission of the school."

Garg, who did not attend the meeting, has her share of defenders, including parents who believe she is bringing needed structure to their children's classrooms at a school that many regard as being teacher-led.

Garg has declined requests for comment from DNAinfo. But last week she sent a newsletter to parents explaining the reason for the changes she has made at the school.

In the letter she said that children at the 200-student school on Madison Avenue and East 106th Street were falling behind because of the lack of focused curriculum.

Parents, however, have pointed out that test results at the school performs better on standardized tests than city averages.