THE BRONX — Parents at a popular public school in Riverdale want to cut through the politics and get their school back on track with a new principal, after their former principal resigned under pressure and an assistant principal accused a state legislator of racially profiling applicants.
P.S. 24, located at 660 W. 236th St. in The Bronx, was run by Principal Donna Connelly until she left in October after a series of controversies under her tenure, including the school losing its lease for an annex and reports that she had forced teachers to get rid of their desks and filing cabinets.
The turmoil at the school has continued with Assistant Principal Manuele Verdi's recent lawsuit against the city accusing State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and his office of getting involved with enrollment at the school to block minority students from attending.
However, parents at the school are eager to move beyond such controversies and get a new permanent principal installed.
“This year has been very challenging, but we are fearful about how the delay in appointing a new principal will impact the preparation for our upcoming academic year,” parent Paulina Sanchez said.
“For the first time in our history, we will be dealing with having to house over 1,000 students in a building intended for 610 students," she continued. "The loss [of] our annex space this year was a major blow, and we cannot afford to delay this matter any longer.”
Dinowitz said more than 100 parents attended P.S. 24's Parents Association meeting on Monday night and were extremely upset.
Parents were talking about pulling their children out of the school, and teachers were talking about leaving the school due to its lack of leadership and overcrowding issues, he said.
"The school is in severe crisis right now," Dinowitz said, "and when elected officials fight for the kids in their schools, most people appreciate it."
He said Verdi's lawsuit would put an added burden on the process to find a new principal for P.S. 24 and again emphatically denied that race had anything to do with his office's involvement in the registration process for P.S. 24.
"Just because Manny Verdi thinks that his job was to overpopulate the school doesn’t mean that there were racial motives in those of us who wanted to keep the population of the school at a reasonable level," he said.
The process for finding a new principal at P.S. 24 has been temporarily delayed pending an investigation, and the superintendent will update the school community moving forward, according to DOE officials.
The Parents Association of P.S. 24 expressed strong frustration with this process in a statement, describing it as "totally unacceptable."
"We are outraged that P.S. 24 has been without [a] permanent principal for six months and may not have one for the remainder of this school year," the statement reads. "We should have a principal and two assistant principals. Currently, we only have one acting interim principal and one assistant principal."
The statement goes on to blame incompetence of the DOE regarding the school's overcrowding issues and demands a full explanation into the delay in the principal selection process and the speedy appointment of a new principal and an additional assistant principal.
Verdi's attorney Ezra Glaser downplayed the school's principal issues, stressing that P.S. 24 has an acting principal with the same authority as a permanent principal.
"She has the same powers as any principal," Glaser said, "so what are they concerned about?"
Parents Association co-president Bob Heisler said that P.S. 24 was dealing with students trying to attend the school from outside of its zone, but the neighborhood had to deal with its changing demographics as well.
“If a school is sought after, people bend the rules in order to get into it,” he said. “But the other problem: we’re not responding to the demographic changes of the neighborhood.”
He said that the sooner the school resolved the issue of not having a leader, the sooner it would be able to deal with its long term capacity issues and that, in the meantime, the building’s cold lunchroom would be converted into four classrooms.
"This is a good school, historically," he said, "and the DOE has not done anything this year but screw it up."