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Brooklyn Heights' P.S. 8 Gets New Principal Parents Wanted, After Protests

By Amy Zimmer | July 27, 2017 2:21pm
 P.S. 8 parents and students rallied on June 28 in support of Patricia
P.S. 8 parents and students rallied on June 28 in support of Patricia "Trish" Peterson.
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BROOKLYN — After weeks of uncertainty and tumult over the selection process for their new principal, parents and teachers at Brooklyn Heights’ highly coveted P.S./M.S. 8 are breathing a sigh of relief.

The school’s beloved assistant principal, Patricia “Trish” Peterson, was officially promoted to the principal job on Wednesday, Department of Education officials confirmed.

"I am excited to take on this new role in bringing the P.S. 8 community together and moving us all forward with a clear focus on the incredible students, families and educators," Peterson said in a statement. "I’m looking forward to the shared work ahead of us."

The Department of Education was originally expected to announce the new principal in June, on the last day of school, but then canceled that meeting after parents got wind of it and started raising their voices. When the meeting was canceled, parents from the Brooklyn Heights school marched to department headquarters at Tweed Courthouse in Lower Manhattan to show their support for Peterson.

At that time, parents had heard Peterson was not going to be named the school’s leader even though the outgoing principal had brought her in a year ago to groom as his successor, and the school community supported her.

They heard rumors that Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña was “blocking” Peterson — a former student of the schools chief — because of previously published reports that Fariña’s favoritism paved the way for Peterson's promotions in the education department, despite lacking needed credentials.

They were especially incensed because under the formal principal selection process — a multi-step process in accordance with the Chancellor’s Regulation C-30 — a committee of parents, teacher’s union reps and members of the principals’ union unanimously recommended Peterson for the job.

Though the C-30 process is supposed to be confidential, a member of the School Leadership Team had announced at a PTA meeting that they recommended Peterson for the job.

The School Leadership Team met with their superintendent of District 13 on July 17 for a two-hour closed-door meeting, and members signed confidentiality agreements promising they would not talk about the meeting, so parents were left in the dark about what was happening. Many were surprised this week to learn the outcome, they said.

P.S. 8 parents were relentless in keeping the pressure on the DOE about the principal pick, even calling Mayor Bill de Blasio and asking him about it when he appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show earlier this month.

“We believe that Trish should receive the Principal position, that our children deserve Trish’s leadership,” they wrote in a July 14 letter to the mayor, asking him to make a “commitment to putting the well-being of children at the center of your efforts as Mayor, and putting an end to Chancellor Fariña’s preference of putting her personal politics ahead of our children.”

Peterson started her education career as a teacher at Cobble Hill's P.S. 29 in 1997 and then held several positions in the DOE from 2005 until last school year when she became P.S. 8's assistant principal.

"I look forward to working with [Peterson] and the entire school community throughout this transition," District 13 Superintendent Barbara Freeman said in a statement, also thanking outgoing principal Seth Phillips for his leadership at the school.

The move to mollify parents at P.S. 8 comes amid other recent contentious principal picks, including at East Harlem’s legendary progressive elementary school Central Park East 1, and Flushing’s elite Townsend Harris High School, ultimately changing the leadership after protests from school communities.