For New NJ Teacher Union Group, Politics Trumps Safe School ReopeningsJuly 29, 2020
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This is a press release written by parents from The Ethical Community Charter School (TECCS) after a virtual school board meeting where the 150 parents participating were told that Principal Marta Bergamini will not return.
Jersey City, NJ – Last night parents and staff of The Ethical Community Charter School attended the monthly Board of Trustees meeting with hope of news on the return of Principal Marta Bergamaini. After waiting three weeks for an update, the community was addressed by the Board’s attorney Joe Maddaloni, who stated, “I’ve engaged in discussions with her counsel in an effort to reach an agreement on the terms of Ms. Bergamini’s return to the school. Unfortunately, those discussions and negotiations have not resulted in an agreeable set of terms. I’ve been informed through her attorney, and then likewise the board has been informed, that she is no longer open to returning to the school.”
The TECCS community expressed immediate shock and disappointment, asking for more information. The Board of Trustees refused to provide any details about the failed negotiations. When parents asked the board for its plan for reopening the school in September without any administrative leaders, Trustee Veronica Park stated that the personnel committee has engaged a consultant, whom upon vetting, they may bring to the attention of the entire Board.
Refusing to mention the consultant by name, Park said, “What I can say about her is that she is a seasoned teacher in special needs, a seasoned principal, a seasoned superintendent, and at this point in her career she has been instrumental in facilitating training for many superintendents throughout New Jersey, including Newark. Not to mention several other counties that have undergone similar situations in terms of a disruption with the change in leadership. Obviously she doesn’t have experience in terms of instruction during COVID.”
For weeks, parents, staff and students have stood in solidarity–writing letters, organizing petitions and protests in an attempt to appeal to trustees with a message that Board leadership made an unjustified decision that destabilized the school at a critical time. In March, the Board voted to give an Executive Committee, composed of TECCS Board of Trustees Chair Sonya “Terry” Still, Vice Chair Peter Went, along with Trustees Gordon Gemma and Veronica Park, decision-making powers in order to maintain stability and continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time they failed to renew the contract of the founding principal who has successfully led the school for 11 years, leaving the school with no leadership in the midst of the COVID crisis.
Kathy Mone, President of Ethics In Education Network (EIEN), a funding source for the school, spoke up about the actions of the Board: “The ineptitude of the board leadership has left the school without a principal in the midst of a pandemic, thereby failing to fulfil the primary duty of the board, which is to ensure that children receive the best education possible.”
Vice Principal Elisha Abdelaal, who resigned on July 1 in protest of Ms. Bergamini’s termination and has been a voice for the staff, stated, ”The Executive Committee of the TECCS Board of Trustees have conducted themselves in an absolutely shameful and irresponsible manner. As a result of their selfishness, they have cost the TECCS community a great deal of instability during a time where the exact opposite was necessary. Marta embodied the TECCS mission, she cared deeply about her community, her students, faculty, and staff. The TECCS community took a huge step backwards as result of the vindictive actions by the executive board.”
It is unclear what families and staff will decide to do moving forward. In reaction to last night’s board meeting, parent Laura Ramos Castillo noted, ”I can’t express the profound sense of loss I feel after last night’s board meeting. I have always believed that TECCS was the safest place for my children and would offer them the best opportunity that my family could provide for a quality, socially responsible education in Jersey City. Without our administrative leaders, it is really hard to see a path forward, but our amazing, dedicated teachers and staff and strong, collaborative parent community give me hope.”
Another parent addressed Trustees directly during public comments, “ You are hurting the very students you claim to care about. Parents who can leave, will leave. The most vulnerable of our student body will be left in the wreckage of your immoral decisions.”
The TECCS community has been particularly shocked by the secretive manner in which the Board of Trustees has acted, and their long stretches of silence as parents and staff alike have searched for answers and called for the restoration of the school’s administrative team. The school’s ethics teacher Geoffery Renaud explained, “For 10 years I have taught conflict resolution to the students of TECCS. I am confused and angered that the few of our board members surreptitiously removed our principal without seeking help in mediating whatever conflict they had with her. I am also disappointed and worried about the future of our school community because they were unable to compromise on terms for her return and now we face reopening amid COVID without our leader.”
The parents and staff of TECCS signed off of last night’s 4.5 hour Board meeting feeling an overwhelming sense of sorrow. It is particularly poignant that the school will be celebrating the graduation of the Class of 2020 this week, on July 30, and their beloved principal will not be present. After a difficult spring, the school had been looking forward to ending the year on a positive note, with the eighth grade graduates and families, middle school teachers, Principal Bergamini and Vice Principal Abelaal together one last time for an outdoor partially virtual ceremony. A shadow is now cast on that day, as the graduates will not receive a send-off from
Principal Bergamini, the leader who welcomed so many of them to the school in September 2011 when they entered as kindergarten students.
Concerned parents of TECCS have asked Trustees Sonya “Terry” Still, Peter Went, Gordon Gemma and Veronica Park, to resign from the board.