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Carol Burris, Common Core opponent, quits as school principal to fight education reforms

Carol Burris speaks during a rally against common

Carol Burris speaks during a rally against common Core in Hauppauge on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 2014. Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre for 15 years and an outspoken critic of Common Core standards and related testing, is leaving the district in June to fight what she says are harmful educational reforms.

Burris said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's recent push to make student performance count for 50 percent of an educator's ratings prompted her to leave her post.

"That was a bridge I could not cross," she said. "I did not feel, in good conscience, that I could come back the following year and participate in that evaluation system. I felt it would undermine much of the good work we have done here at the high school."

Burris, 62, said she plans to work alongside similarly minded education advocates, including Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and a most prominent voice on the issue.

John Murphy, one of South Side's assistant principals, was selected by the school board to replace Burris. He starts July 1.

Burris said all children should be exposed to the best and most rigorous curriculum, no matter their race or socio-economic background.

Within the past few years, she mandated that all 11th- and 12-grade students take the toughest, college-level English course available and put in place support for those who needed it.

The district took the same step with 11th-grade social studies beginning last school year.

"She has high expectations for all kids," said Rockville Centre Superintendent Bill Johnson, who described Burris as "outstanding."

Burris hasn't always been a Common Core critic. She wrote a book in 2012 supporting the standards, but reversed her position after teachers, children and their parents told her about their difficulties with them.

She now contends the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate, that it is beyond what young children can process and ultimately will turn them off to learning.

Burris also opposes using student test scores to evaluate educators, saying the curriculum, tests and formula used to factor them into teachers' ratings are faulty.

The educator received a bachelor of arts degree in computer science from Hofstra University in 1988, a master of science in Spanish education from LIU Post in 1992 and a doctorate from Teachers College at Columbia University in 2003.

Before working in the Rockville Centre district, she was a Spanish teacher in Lawrence, starting in 1990.

She's been a frequent guest blogger for The Washington Post since 2012 and has challenged U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in open letters to which he has responded.

Burris, who is paid $218,000, is considered a leading voice in education on Long Island. She has spoken at anti-testing rallies across New York and chided the governor and former state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. for failing to listen to parents' and educators' criticism of the Common Core and its rollout.

In addition to her writing, Burris also has served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice, investigating whether some schools in the South are segregating their students.

"My passion is education equity and I'll continue to pursue that well into retirement," she said.

Murphy, who has worked for Burris since he joined the district as a teacher in 1997, said she taught him several important lessons.

Perhaps the most valuable, he said, is that opening educational opportunities for students who have historically been denied such chances does not mean denying those opportunities to the children who have enjoyed them in the past.

Although the district has grown more inclusive, he said, that work is not done.

"It's never-ending," Murphy said. "There is no such thing as finished."

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