BREAKING: Students protest principal's ouster

BREAKING: Students protest principal's ouster

Michele Ellson
Nea Community Learning Center

Updated at 4:16 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, with new information in bold.

Dozens of Nea Community Learning Center students walked out of classes Tuesday to protest the removal of the school’s leader Friday, eight weeks before the end of the school year.

The governing board for the entity that oversees Nea, Community Learning Center Schools, Inc., voted early Friday to place Nea’s lead facilitator, Maafi Gueye, on paid administrative leave. Community Learning Center’s chief operating officer, Lina Miura, was also placed on leave.

A decision concerning Gueye’s fate is expected Thursday, Community Learning Center’s executive director, Patti Wilczek, confirmed Tuesday. Wilczek said that Annalisa Moore, who has run Nea's K-5, has agreed to provide administrative support and site leadership along with a point person at each school site while the matter is resolved, she said Wednesday.

"This is an interim position until our Board votes on Thursday to either reinstate or dismiss," Moore wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

"The school is being run as if Maafi were out sick. Everybody is jumping in and pitching in," Wilczek said over the din of students who were still protesting the board's decision early Tuesday afternoon. Wilczek is also on campus, she said, "so there's no void in leadership."

Gueye wasn't available to comment Tuesday.

Students, who said Gueye was removed from the Nea campus “like a criminal” in the middle of the school day Friday while they were in class, said they’re frustrated about the way the matter was handled and that they didn’t have a say in the decision – something they said shouldn’t happen at a school that was set up to run more democratically.

“This is a democratic school, and they refuse to let us vote on anything,” one of the student protestors said as others chanted “We want Maafi!” while stationed at the corner of Webster Street and Lincoln Avenue.

Students said the school is up in the air following Gueye’s apparent ouster, and that several major end-of-year activities are on hold.

“The facilitators don’t have anywhere to look at this moment. They’re lost,” Nea sophomore Camila Ramos said, referring to the school’s teachers.

Students said they wanted to know why the Community Learning Center Schools board voted to place Gueye on leave. In an e-mail to families sent Sunday and forwarded to The Alamedan, board members said they’re prohibited from revealing their reasons for putting Gueye and Miura on leave. Personnel matters are typically not discussed publicly by governing groups like the Community Learning Center Schools board.

The e-mail says the decision was “not taken lightly” and also, that it is “not reversible.” It also said that elements of the decision “have been under long-term Board consideration.”

The board voted 7-1 to place Gueye and Miura on leave, minutes from the meeting where the decision was made show; students cheered the one board member who opposed the leave decision when she showed up at Tuesday’s protest. Paul Bentz, who served as executive director of the nonprofit until Wilczek was hired at the end of last year, abstained from the votes, meeting minutes show.

Both Miura and Gueye had filed complaints against Wilczek with the board, meeting minutes show, Miura's regarding a review and Gueye, a performance plan. The board's e-mail to families said complaints against Wilczek had been investigated and found to be without merit, though it wasn't clear if the complaints they referred to were the ones lodged by Miura and Gueye.

"Following the results of multiple investigations by a legally sanctioned third-party investigation firm, complaints against Patti were determined to be unsubstantiated. From the Board’s perspective, her performance has remained thoroughly professional under very difficult circumstances," the board's e-mail said. It said Wilczek had "been subjected to far-reaching attacks by certain vocal members of our community" that constituted bullying and urged families and school staff "to work with her, not against her."

Students, who referred to Gueye as “MaMaafi,” characterized her as someone who was deeply engaged in their lives and who took an active interest in both their learning and their personal welfare.

“When somebody did something wrong, she helped that person,” one seventh grade student who joined the walkout Tuesday said. “She’s been the best principal I ever had.”

But Gueye had also clashed with families and teachers, prompting loud complaints from some who have left the K-12 charter school.

Gueye’s ouster comes in the midst of what should have been a triumphant moment for the school: Its grade school and middle and high school, which have been on separate campuses for the past several years, are due to be reunited on the campus that once housed Woodstock Elementary School.

But scenarios floated by Wilczek that introduced the possibility of merging Nea with its older, more established sister school, the Alameda Community Learning Center, prompted an outcry from families who are deeply invested in the individual culture of their respective schools. Wilczek and Community Learning Center’s board took the merger scenario off the table, parents said, but the board’s decision to place Gueye on leave has sparked fears that it may still be under consideration.

Under a proposed lease deal, school district leaders are seeking an increase in the percentage of Alameda-based students the charter schools educate. All told, about 76 percent of the two charter schools’ 863 students live on the Island. About 86 percent of Alameda Community Learning Center's middle and high school students live in Alameda, compared to 56 percent of middle and high school students attending Nea.

State law requires charter schools to educate students from anywhere in California. But in recent years, the school district - which has worked to expand its own middle school offerings - has only offered space to house Alameda students, documents associated with charters’ negotiations for space show. The proposed lease agreement allows the district to consider reducing the amount of space the schools get if their combined on-Island enrollment isn't 85 percent or more by the 2016-17 school year.

The turmoil has also sparked questions about Nea’s representation on the board and also, the way its members are selected; Wilczek confirmed the board is a "self-sustaining" board that interviews and selects new members. The board also recently decided to remove staff members on an interim basis, meeting minutes show; the decision to allow staff to serve on the board is being researched, she said.

Wilczek said she doesn't think the board gives Nea short shrift.

"I know that concern has been expressed. I don't share that concern," Wilczek said. "I think they're able to make decisions based on best practices, rather than alliances to one school or another."

And she denied claims that she has been inattentive to Nea and its needs, though she said there are "lots of forces" competing for her time an attention.

"I'm rock solidly here now," Wilczek said. "I'm supporting the facilitators and parents through this time of challenge."

Despite the turmoil, Wilczek said she's "really excited" about the schools' future and that their pending move will help the schools thrive.

"Despite some challenges right now, we will land on the other side of this stronger," she said.

Comments

Submitted by Terry Winckler (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

When Maafi served at ACLC a few years ago, she was one of the most respected members on staff. It's a shock to see her summarily booted out. What's the back story?

Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Way to go Maafi! Getting paid without having to work-- I think you've beat the system! Enjoy your time off and I hope your next position is 1000% better.

Submitted by KS (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

I'm pretty sure that "getting paid without having to work" (aka admin leave) is a horrible fate to befall someone who has invested her life to educating children.

Submitted by Tina O'Shea (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Good for the kids for standing up for their principal! It should also be noted that the K-5 teachers all signed a letter to the board expressing their "extreme duress and disapproval of the CLCS Board’s decision" and urging that Maafi and Lina be reinstated.

Submitted by Sherry Alder (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Poor teacher retention and declining student attendance is reason enough to change the leadership. The lack of clear written policies and procedures regarding critical operational and student related issues exemplifies the inadequacies of the so-called Lead Facilitator. There is no place for cult of personality leadership when it comes to my child's education.

Submitted by Melanie Chadwick (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Let's be honest. Alameda couldn't stomach the idea of not one but two women of color leading the newest charter school in town. The same thing happened at Academy of Alameda...they whitewashed it after all the hard work was done by another woman of color. Nothing is new in America.

Submitted by Sherry Calhoun (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Enrollment at Nea is up, students are being accepted to the best colleges in the state, and procedures are clear. Facilitators showed 100% support and intentions to return. I was at the meeting where the facilitators read a letter that they will take action, too. So, get your facts straight....the school has had the best year ever, but some won't let go of early start up challenges AND personality differences that are also a part of it. Why does a leader have to win popularity contests if they are effective? In any case Nea is a high performing school, and Maafi getting out from under short-sighted, inflexible detractors will probably be the best thing that happened to her in a long time.

Submitted by Norene Griffin (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

The percentage of Alameda-based students at Nea is incorrectly cited in this article. The percentage of resident learners enrolled at Nea Lower Village is 82%. The number cited in the article is for Nea Upper Village. The data is a matter of public record and can be found on the CLCS website: http://www.clcschools.org/uploaded/Enrollment_Projection_2014-15_(03.27.14).pdf

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Hi Norene: Thanks for including that, that is indeed what I was trying to say. I have added some clarifying language.

Submitted by Dorothy Jensen (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Great article Michelle. Thanks.

Submitted by Daniel Davenport (not verified) on Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Hey Michele, nice writing. Thank you for your committment to covering education within Alameda.

Submitted by Marcus wybo (not verified) on Wed, Apr 23, 2014

My daughter attends NEA and I have solid respect for Maafi.
The tactics done to remove her we're ruthless and uncharitable to all, especially the children. And then have the gaul to say anyone who complains or critisizes is bullying and won't be tolerated. What rubish! We still have freedom of speech in this country. Shame on them.

Submitted by Ms. Anita (not verified) on Wed, Apr 23, 2014

Maafi needs to be removed ppermanently period, bottom line! She has had so many parents upset & Many have witnessed her doing some cruel punishments towards kids of all ages. Shes trying to run a cult & its her way or the Highway. She has been very Unprofessional & its long oversue that Nea have a New Proven leader that wont vause embarassment & havoc to the Alameda Community!

Submitted by BetteJ (not verified) on Wed, Apr 23, 2014

Long overdue! Nea's reputation has suffered greatly under her. Time for a fresh start!

Submitted by Ms. J (not verified) on Wed, Apr 23, 2014

and there you go playing the race card. why does it have to be because she is a woman of color? why can't it be because she's a woman? what if it's not either one of those reasons, what if it's something completely different? how do you know when no one knows the true reason? all you do is keep the hate going when you throw down the race card, we need to stop making everything about race and gender, stop fanning a flame that needs to go out.

Submitted by Mom First (not verified) on Wed, Apr 23, 2014

I cannot believe Ms. Anita's comments. Clearly a misguided statement, fraught with typos, grammatical and mechanical errors. Moreover, where is there evidence of cruel punishment from Maafi against kids? That you don't like Maafi is clear. But a cult? Maybe a cult of high achievement, expectations and principles. If that is the kind of cult leader she is, I'm in! The inability for some to deal with cultural differences is appalling. How much of the hate toward Maafi is tinged with the reality that she is a bold, brassy black woman with a rock-solid vision? That she is an effective educator is without question....her people skills may need polish, but illegal activities against kids? Prove it!