PS/MS 282 Principal Leaves Position Amidst Controversy


PS 282
Following recent struggles with some parents and at PS/MS 282 on 6th Avenue, Principal Magalie Alexis reportedly left the position last week to spend more time with her family.

A letter sent to parents by Barbara Freeman, Superintendent of Community School District 13, notes that Principal Alexis “decided to take a leave of absence” for family reasons. Meanwhile, a statement sent to the school from Council Member Brad Lander calls her departure a resignation.

We’ve reached out to the Department of Education, but have yet to receive confirmation about whether or not Mrs. Alexis will not be returning to the school as its principal.

“I am working closely with the capable team of educators at PS 282, and with the school’s network support team, to ensure that our students remain focused and engaged in the classroom throughout this transition,” Superintendent Freeman’s letter reads. “I ask that you help me to continue the dialogue that we have begun here at school to help your child feel informed and secure.”

That “dialogue” appears to have involved some parents who felt Principal Alexis should be removed, butting heads against those who were happy with her leadership and decision-making over the course of her 10 years with the school. Parents we spoke to reported some tension between zoned families, many of whom are white; families of the racially diverse group of students who attend from outside of the zone (being under-enrolled, many students at 282 come from outside); and Principal Alexis, who is black. Still, some parents also noted that the group pushing for a change in leadership, which they say grew to a few dozen people, represented all races.

“My office has heard from many parents about the struggles at the school in recent times,” said Council Member Lander, whose district lines changed this year to include the 282 community, in his statement to the school. Lander added that “there are many concerns to be grappled with following this announcement,” and hinted at race issues that have been bubbling at the surface.

“I am especially pleased that District 13 (both the superintendent and the CEC) have taken real leadership on issues of diversity,” Lander wrote. “Even in a gentrifying neighborhood, within a too-highly-segregated school system, I deeply believe that with joint efforts and shared commitment, PS/MS 282 can remain a diverse and inclusive school.”

He also touted Principal Alexis’ work, saying he had toured the school with her, had attended to a PTO meeting, and had taken part in some school events.

“Principal Alexis has been a dedicated advocate for the students and creative in identifying and implementing programs to support and inspire them,” he wrote — and a number of parents seem to agree. In a letter sent last month in advance of PTO elections, a group of Principal Alexis’ supporters, calling themselves Iam282forPrincipalAlexis, listed many of her accomplishments — including support that got the school’s winning chess team started, an extended swimming program, class trips to places well beyond the city limits, professional development for staff, and more.

“PS/MS 282 may be going through some struggles right now,” said the group’s letter, “however, the way to be successful is to work together with Mrs. Alexis, and not conspire behind her back and that of the majority of parents.”

Though none of the parents we spoke to were willing to talk publicly on the matter, commenters on forums like UrbanBaby and Park Slope Parents have posted reactions to the school and its principal in the past.

“People like it for the early grades,” one wrote on UrbanBaby. “But apparently the principal is not very friendly or flexible and drives Park Slopers (read: white people) away.”

Another, on Park Slope Parents, referred to Principal Alexis as “totally inaccessible.”

A story about the rumors and race relations at the school that appeared in DNAinfo in 2012 cited troubling statistics that could indicate another level of concern — that of the relationships between teachers and the principal. It noted a high teacher turnover rate and results from the DOE’s Learning Environment Survey that showed “most teachers said they don’t trust the principal.”

“There is no way for teachers to be heard,” one teacher who left in 2011 is noted as saying on Inside Schools. “She cares about the kids, but if you cross her as a teacher, she will make your life very difficult.”

In 2010, Principal Alexis came under scrutiny when she reportedly excluded three teachers from a ceremony honoring a fellow teacher. The Daily News said those teachers claimed the move was made to “cover up problems at the school.”

We’ve contacted the United Federation of Teachers for a comment on behalf of Mrs. Alexis, but have not received a response.

Now may be a difficult time for the school community, but as Council Member Lander notes, everyone involved must work to build a stronger, and more connected, 282 — a process that’s already begun.

“I have full confidence,” says Lander’s statement, “that the Department of Education leadership – from Chancellor Fariña to Superintendent Barbara Freeman — will work with the school community to find a new leader that recognizes what must be maintained, what must be grown, and what must be rebuilt.”

If you’re a parent at 282, what’s your experience been? Do you feel there’s been racial tension at the school? Do you see the loss of Principal Alexis as a stumbling block for the growing student community, or do you think a change in leadership is the answer?

  • Northslopian

    I think this will be a welcome change. For the one year I sent my child to 282, I never once saw Ms. Alexis in the hallway, or greeting the children or otherwise making her appearance known. In fact, I never learned what she looked like until the very last week of school went I went to the General Office and she came out from her internal office to speak with a secretary. My initial impression was formed when the reportedly “very good” teacher my child was scheduled to have left the week before school started. Obviously Ms. Alexis was not instilling loyalty in her teachers! Rather than the very good teacher we were scheduled to have, the class was placed with an elderly new teacher who did not have the energy to deal with 16 four-year-olds. I hope that person with flexibility, fresh ideas and who welcomes change (a more progressive bent would be nice) takes Ms. Alexis’s place. It would mean that more households in the zone would send their children to 282.

  • Olivier

    I also think it will be a welcome change. The main problem was that the vision held by Principal Alexis for the school was out of touch with the demographics of the neighborhood. The tensions had nothing to do with race per se, although it is perhaps inevitable that the change in leadership will result in a student mix that is closer to the ethnic composition of the school zone.

    • Sloper

      But these problems have been going on for 10 years. What happened to suddenly force Alexis’s resignation three weeks before the end of the school year?

      • Olivier

        Enough parents collectively shared their concerns with their elected officials and the DOE and a more responsive educational leadership finally took action. Someone must have realized that this wasn’t about race but simply this school doesn’t serve it’s zone.

  • Former 282 parent

    My child attended PS/MS from Pre-K to 3 rd grade, and I can state unequivocally that Mrs. Alexis was the main problem with this school. As a leader, she was divisive, socially inept and an ineffective manager. Mrs. Alexis had many different groups calling for her removal throughout the years, these groups crossed racial and economic lines and included parents, teachers and staff. Yes, there are racial issues at this school, many of them due to the changing neighborhood and parents, both black and white, vying for limited educational resources. Many of these issues however, could have been ironed out had there been a capable, effective leader with vision at the helm. In fact, and I say this as a black parent, the racial issue conversation is often used (conveniently by Mrs. Alexis and her ilk ) to cover up the many problems with Mrs. Alexis’ leadership.There are so many horror stories concerning Mrs. Alexis, that have nothing to do with race, that they are too many to count or state in this limited forum. During my child’s attendance at 282, I witnessed her making many self-motivated not school-motivated decisions, forcing great teachers out through intimidation and manipulation, alienating and punishing parents who disagreed with her or made complaints against her and rewarding those who defended her with privileges. One example of the privileges awarded to parents were their children being place in the G&T class even though their children didn’t pass the G&T test. And yes, her actions were reported to the DOE, and they did nothing. The saddest thing about Mrs. Alexis’ tenure at 282 was the loss of potential, there were so many great children, motivated teachers and active parents, so many great opportunities that were missed and or sabotaged by this principal that it’s heartbreaking to think about. Hopefully, the collective sigh of relief resounding from parents, teachers and staff, ( old, current and new) at Mrs. Alexis’ departure will reach the DOE. Hopefully, the new principal will be able to realize the potential that 282 has to be one of the best schools in the district.

  • ella

    Can anyone share the process that made this resignation come about? My local zoned school suffers from similar leadership problems, and it would be useful to hear which elected officials (the local Council? the CEC) they contacted and how they were able to make this change happen. THANK YOU!

  • Larry Lockhorn

    Thank you Mary for getting ahead of this story. I haven’t seen it covered so well so early elsewhere. Am I the only user here though who sees a “zero” comment number for all the posts I n this site, even for stories that are attracting attention? I think you would get a more robust user response if this problem was fixed.

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