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Maria Francisco is principal of Renaissance Middle School, part of the Montclair Public Schools District. Parent Leslie Rubisch says Francisco, who is a gay woman and an immigrant, is an “outstanding principal and amazing role model” who has transformed the school into a “special place” where children learn and morale is high.
Yet Francisco may be on her way out: in 2020 she replaced former Renaissance Middle School principal Joseph Putrino, whom the school board put on unpaid administrative leave after he, according to North Jersey Media, showed “a video of a Black man, played by comedian Josh Pray, yelling about virtual learning and the difficulties of home-schooling, to staff during a Zoom meeting. It triggered complaints from some teachers and the Montclair Branch of the NAACP.” A year earlier six Black teachers at the district’s Glenfield Middle School, where Putrino was then principal, charged he “only gave white teachers the opportunity to teach more classes and earn more pay.”
Racist predilections aside, an “arbitrator ruled that Putrino must be “immediately” reinstated as Renaissance principal,” with back pay for his 120-day suspension period, saying the district did not have “just cause” for his firing. And last month, an Essex County judge confirmed that ruling.
Putrino has tenure. Francisco doesn’t because she’s only been principal for two years and it takes four years to get tenure.So, regardless of effectiveness, Putrino is in and Francisco is out.
David Cantor, the district’s communications director, said, “we’re aware of the strong parent support for Ms. Francisco and the relationships she’s built this year with her students. We’ll continue to work in their best interests.”
But the district can’t buck the state’s teacher tenure law, even if retaining Francisco is in the best interests of students, of whom 25% are Black.
Here’s an idea: what if we adopt the recommendation of the National Council on Teacher Quality by acknowledging the importance of seniority but creating a tenure policy that ensures staff effectiveness is the most influential factor? Sure, the district would need to find another placement for Putrino–that’s tenure for you– but Francisco could continue being that “outstanding role model” for the Renaissance Middle School community. With a districtwide budget of $141 million, what’s an extra $127K?