Charter administrators fired despite protest
Charter administrators fired despite protest
A prospective Nea Community Learning Center parent speaks out against a decision to place a pair of administrators on leave.
The nonprofit board that oversees Nea Community Learning Center voted Thursday to fire the school’s top administrator and the nonprofit’s chief operating officer after an emotional meeting at which students, parents and the school’s teachers defended the pair and called for their reinstatement.
The board voted to fire Nea’s lead facilitator, Maafi Gueye, and Lina Miura, the chief operating officer for Community Learning Centers, Inc., without cause; several board members were absent. Hiring and firing decisions are typically not aired in public, and reasons for the board’s decision to fire the pair were not given.
Nea’s assistant lead facilitator, Annalisa Moore, will run the school on an interim basis while a new lead facilitator is sought, Community Learning Centers, Inc.’s executive director, Patti Wilczek, said Saturday. Wilczek said the process for seeking a new lead facilitator for the school will begin in May, and that discussions about an assistant lead facilitator will start “in the next week or so.”
Community Learning Centers, Inc.’s governing board announced the firings in a statement to parents Friday in which they voiced a commitment to keep Nea and its sister school, the Alameda Community Learning Center, separate next year.
“We regret that these actions are upsetting to numerous members of the Nea community. These difficult decisions were not taken lightly and were made by the Board in accordance with its leadership and oversight responsibilities,” the statement, signed by board president Joan Uhler, said.
Parents, students and teachers who attended Thursday’s board meeting took turns chastising board members for their decision to place Gueye, who they called the “heart” of the public charter school, on leave on April 18 and for the way her removal was handled. Speakers also criticized board members for what they said was a lack of a plan moving forward after ousting the pair. And they questioned the nonprofit leadership’s commitment to the school.
“When we look at the current Nea, we see chaos,” said Evette Castillo Clark, who said she planned to send her son to kindergarten at Nea in the fall but would reconsider if Gueye was not reinstated.
Some of the nearly two dozen speakers who voiced support for the pair questioned the board’s commitment to Nea and said they want changes in how board members are selected and in how the board is run.
“This is such a major thing – why don’t we have all the board members here?” asked a Nea teacher, who said the school lacked formalized leadership a week after its top administrator was placed on leave.
A tearful Vivi McKee presented the board with a petition signed by 87 percent of the students in Nea’s upper village – its middle and high school – seeking Gueye’s reinstatement. McKee said that even students who didn’t like Gueye signed the petition because they didn’t like the way her ouster was handled.
“It wasn’t just my friends who signed it. It was the whole school,” McKee said.
The school’s teachers also signed a petition calling for Gueye’s reinstatement, saying they are “unsettled” by the board’s actions and that the decision was causing “extreme duress.” Teachers also expressed frustration that they and others at Nea were shut out of the decision-making.
“It is regrettable to find that our democratic model is no longer,” teacher Leah Wachtel said.
Parents also said they’re concerned about the damage the firings could do to the school’s reputation as it tries to recruit more on-Island students and also, that the turmoil could drive away teachers families don’t want to lose. A lease agreement to be considered by the school board Tuesday for space on the Woodstock campus calls on both schools to increase their combined percentage of Alameda students.
Incoming PTA president Samantha Morgan said one of the other PTA presidents who contacted her claimed she’d heard that Gueye was arrested and taken off campus in handcuffs, which is not true.
“I think this is the wake-up call that Alameda’s rumor mill in strong, and rumors that are inaccurate spread quicker,” Morgan said. “I am deeply and gravely concerned about our image in the community.”
The discussion also sparked questions about race, with some saying Gueye, who is African American, was an example of high achievement to non-white students and others questioning what they characterized as a lack of diversity on the mostly-white board.
A pair of speakers said they thought the school would be better off without Gueye, who has clashed with some former parents and teachers who have been vocal in questioning her leadership. One speaker called Gueye and Miura a “cancer” that needed to be removed, while another – who claimed to be speaking for the school’s “silent majority” said more parents would have turned out to the meeting if they opposed the board’s decision.
“If people opposed the board, they would be here,” the speaker said.
But others said the school may not be a fit for everyone and that people who have problems with the school or its leader can attend school elsewhere.
Separately, teachers from the schools pressed the board to again include school staffers in their ranks, and to support a contract for the schools’ teachers.
The board recently voted to remove school staff on an “interim” basis for further study, and teachers have been bargaining for a contract.
The meeting capped a tumultuous week that saw parents frantically coordinating an effort to get Gueye reinstated and students walking off campus in protest of the decision to put her on leave.
“This entire situation has disrupted the school,” parent Mary Beth Spencer said.
The K-12 school has been spread across two campuses for the past few years, but was set to reunite on the Woodstock campus, which it will share with Alameda Community Learning Center, its 6-12 sister school. But excitement over the move turned to fear when Wilczek floated scenarios for the schools’ future that included a potential merger.
After an uproar from parents at both schools, Wilczek took that scenario off the table, and the board voted not to pursue it. But the leave decisions renewed Nea families’ fears that a merger is still in the works – though the board’s president, Joan Uhler, denied that this was the case.
“There are rumors that our decisions are a path to shutting down Nea in some way. I wanted to tell you guys that this is absolutely not true,” Uhler said Thursday.
But some questioned whether the school would be able to move past the board’s actions.
“How do we move forward from something like this? I feel heartbroken. And tired,” teacher Heather Dutton said. “At a time that we should be celebrating our reunion on one campus, there not that much energy for celebrating.”
Related: Students protest principal’s ouster