Baldwin school officials have released a statement expressing unwavering support for new high school principal Caterina Lafergola despite opponents saying she was not a good fit for the district.
“Ms. Lafergola has an outstanding vision for education, which parallels the work that has successfully taken place in Baldwin over the past two years,” read a statement by Superintendent Shari L. Camhi, released hours after Lafergola met with parents and district officials behind closed doors Wednesday night. “She has the capacity, the will and desire to make it happen.”
Dozens of residents turned out for the “meet-and-greet” session with Lafergola at Baldwin Middle School.
She has served as principal of Automotive High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a school emphasizing career and technical training. Lafergola starts at Baldwin High School — with an enrollment of more than 1,500 students — July 1.
Opponents said her tenure as principal of a vocational school with mostly male students doesn’t make her a desirable candidate for Baldwin High, where they have said the goal should be college preparation.
An online petition opposing her hiring and created by Shani Bruno, a Baldwin parent and community college professor, includes about 500 signatures.
Critics of Lafergola’s hiring also signed a letter asking Camhi, board president Karyn Reid, and vice president Joel Press “to reconsider and duly reverse this high-impact personnel decision,” which they said came as a surprise. Lafergola’s appointment was approved unanimously by the board in May. She has a four-year contract.
“A high school principal is the leader of the teachers, who are going to get our kids to college. That will be the person who will inspire and guide our teachers,” Bruno, 42, said at a Baldwin school board meeting Wednesday night. “I want them to revoke, rescind, block this appointment.”
Jacqueline Nicholas, a nurse practitioner with three children in the district, said meeting Lafergola did nothing to soothe her concerns about the new principal’s history and qualifications.
“We parents are very upset that this principal was even in the pool” of candidates, Nicholas said. “She doesn’t have the experience to be here.”
Lafergola is expected to replace principal Susan Knors, whose retirement was announced March 9. She formerly worked as an administrator and educator in Queens as well as Long Island schools, including Valley Stream Memorial High School and the Eastport South Manor Junior Senior High School.
In a statement, Lafergola said her “mission is to inspire and support all of our students in becoming lifelong learners, ethical and responsible citizens, and productive members of the 21st century global marketplace through a committed effort involving students, families, educators, support staff, and the greater Baldwin community.”
Camhi said during a break in Wednesday night’s meeting that questions about Lafergola’s hiring were based on misinformation.
“We’ve heard from many members of our community and that is not the widespread sentiment,” Camhi said. “We used a very thorough and inclusive vetting process.”
Lafergola was hired after a search that started in the winter and included staff and community input, Camhi said.
Several residents spoke at the board meeting Wednesday, inquiring about Lafergola’s qualifications while chiding the board for lacking transparency.
But attorney Chris Venator, representing the school district, told speakers the board couldn’t discuss personnel decisions in public.
Matt Salmon, a Farmingdale resident and physical education teacher at Automotive High School, told residents that Lafergola “is the best principal I have ever worked with” and “the most attentive” person with students and staff.
The New York City Department of Education’s school quality snapshot for the 2014-15 shows Automotive High School, with 383 students, achieved a 46-percent graduation rate, with 26-percent of students going on to college within six months.
Baldwin High’s 2014-15 school report card from the state Education Department showed a 94-percent graduation rate, well above the state’s 80 percent standard, with 91 percent of graduates enrolling in two- or four-year colleges. The school has more than 1,600 students.
A statement in the petition says: “Our shared contention is that Baldwin deserves a building leader who is more than a manager or disciplinarian, something Automotive High School perhaps truly needed. The data shows, however . . . that Baldwin High School is a distinctly dissimilar learning community, and is thereby entitled to leadership in possession of rigorous academic demand, high expectations of performance, promotion, graduation, and pursuit of postsecondary study as well as behavior.”
Parents who emerged from the meet-and-greet session had mixed reactions, with some saying they were keeping an open mind and others questioning the principal’s qualifications.
“I feel that she’s confident and seems very experienced, and I feel everyone deserves a fair shake,” said Kim Taylor, the vice president of legislation for the Baldwin High PTSA and the mother of a 9th grader at the school.