Public school for the elite

New York Magazine has a fascinating story about the principal of a boutique public school in New York City that drove out most of its working-class Puerto Rican and black neighborhood students and replaced them with upper-middle-class kids likely to score well.

When school started, (Principal Celenia) Chévere divided the seventh grade into the “A-class” and the “B-class.” The A-class had five children, most of them white. The B-class was composed of twenty or so students from the immediate neighborhood, nearly all of them Hispanic or black.

. . . The B-class became the principal’s white whale, her sour obsession. According to one of its teachers, Chévere would declare, “I’m going to torture them until they leave.” She ordered the B-class students cited for every conceivable infraction, no matter how picayune. “She told me to write up anyone for anything,” the teacher says. “If a kid looked tired, if he didn’t have a belt on, if his hair wasn’t washed …” Chévere forwarded the paper barrage to the Administration for Children’s Services. When besieged parents came to the school, the teacher says, Chévere held ACS over them as a threat: Withdraw their children, or else.

If this is true, it’s appalling. Threatening parents with a child neglect investigation just to get rid of low-scoring students is about as low as a principal can go.

A former teacher suggests the principal and top administrators changed students’ answers on state tests; a former special education student says her teacher gave her the right answers but told special ed students to miss two questions.

The cheating charges weren’t investigated, despite suspiciously high scores for special ed students. However, Chevere was forced to retire on other grounds. The school is now a magnet for gifted and talented students, few of whom live in the neighborhood.

About Joanne


  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    The New York Magazine story says:

    The local school board, riven with political strife, was disinclined to provoke its constituents (or highlight its own failings) by allowing a seat of privilege to be dropped into the neighborhood. On January 30, 2001, the board voted to establish NEST as a “school of choice” for any district student, subject only to a lottery and racial quotas.

    What’s particularly slimy about this principal is her traducing of local parents. They agreed to allow the school in their neighborhood on the condition that local students had an equal chance to go there, but the principal deliberately drove away local kids.
    There are schools for the gifted, and then there are good schools that help all students. It’s dishonest to advertise the second, and deliver the first.

    Moreover it’s contemptible to give special-ed students the answers to standardized tests, then use their high standardized test scores to put them in regular classrooms where they will fail.

    This principal forgot that schools are for the students, not her ego.

  2. wayne martin says:

    > If this is true, it’s appalling. Threatening parents with
    > a child neglect investigation just to get rid of
    > low-scoring students is about as low as a principal can go.

    It ought to be illegal. It’s a real shame that a referral to District Attorney, or the State Attorney General, was not made.

  3. Twill00 says:

    It probably is illegal, if it could be proven, depending upon how broadly the NY state and federal statutes regarding discrimination are worded.

    It would be interesting to see someone pick this up under the federal statutes regarding “depriving of civil rights under color of law”.

  4. Another Mom says:

    I think there are LOTS of public schools for the elite, and lots of tactics used by wealthy parents in wealthy districts to keep others out.

    In our Northern Virginia suburb, our son scored well enough to join an advanced math class in fourth grade. But then I got a call at home from the “teacher” who told me “I’m not actually teaching this class. All of the other kids have private tutors or go to places like Kumon and can already do the work. Your son will fail this class unless you can afford a tutor.” And since we couldn’t, he had to drop the class.

    We also couldn’t afford an additional two years of preschool for each child so we actually sent them to kindergarten when they were FIVE! All of the children later selected for the gifted program had been seven year old kindergarteners.

    The public school had a Silent Auction every year where parents were encouraged to donate their Red Skins tickets and weeks at their beach houses. The suggested contributtion for a teacher gift for every holiday was fifty dollars per child. Field trips routinely costed 70 dollars per child. Eventually we moved away because we couldn’t afford our local public school. I wonder how rare this is . .