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Roosevelt school superintendent placed on paid leave; board trustee removed

Roosevelt schools superintendent Marnie Hazelton, seen on Jan.

Roosevelt schools superintendent Marnie Hazelton, seen on Jan. 25, 2018, has been placed on paid leave. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Marnie Hazelton, superintendent of Roosevelt schools since October 2015, has been placed on paid leave, and an assistant superintendent, Shirley Martin, has been named to run the 3,400-student district, local officials said Monday.

In addition, a veteran school board trustee, Willa Scott, has been removed from the panel, and the district is seeking a replacement, officials said.

Hazelton, reached later in the day, said she received a letter from the board Friday putting her on home leave, adding that she would not comment further on the incident. Hazelton began working at the district in 1996 as a substitute teacher. 

"The only thing I have to say is that I truly love Roosevelt and the students and the families, and I wish them nothing but the best," Hazelton said. "The Roosevelt renaissance will continue."

Scott, contacted at home Monday, acknowledged she had missed multiple board meetings due to illness, but added she now feels much better. She voiced support for the shelved superintendent and vowed to fight for reinstatement to the board. 

The administrative shake-up was a fresh blow to Roosevelt — a district that had experienced frequent upheavals in past years, but appeared, until recently at least, to have recovered its academic and financial footing.

In 2002, Roosevelt became the first and only system in New York ever placed under direct control of state authorities. The takeover, which ended in 2013, followed decades of rapid staff turnover, fiscal turmoil and failing test scores. 

The latest management jolt in Roosevelt occurred Friday at an emergency board meeting of four members, according to minutes posted on the district's website. 

Late in the meeting, the four trustees — Alfred Taylor, Charlena Croutch, Susan Gooding and Rose Gietschier — unanimously approved a confidential letter detailing an employee's leave of absence. Reasons for removal were not spelled out, due to rules requiring privacy in personnel matters. 

The employee was not named in the minutes, but Taylor, the board president, confirmed in a phone interview later that Hazelton had been placed on leave. The four trustees went on to name Martin, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources and professional development, as acting superintendent. 

"I think she's going to do a splendid job as superintendent," Taylor said about Martin. "She's had years of experience. Roosevelt is going to move forward, regardless of who's in the superintendent's seat."

Scott praised Hazelton's contribution to Roosevelt's gradual recovery, and denounced her being placed on leave. Scott's removal from the board came at an earlier meeting. 

"Dr. Hazelton has done so much for this district — she doesn't deserve what they've done to her," Scott said.

Hazelton is the second schools chief to run Roosevelt since the district emerged from state control. Her predecessor, Deborah Wortham, left Long Island to take over the troubled East Ramapo system in the Hudson Valley. 

With Wortham and Hazelton at the helm, schools in Roosevelt gradually improved their test scores and academic standing. The district also raised its credit rating, improved graduation rates and hired more bilingual teachers to serve a growing number of Latino students. 

Roosevelt ranks among the poorest Long Island school systems in terms of taxable income and property wealth. Its enrollment is about 56 percent Latino and 44 percent black.

Hazelton has dealt with her share of controversies. Two teachers were fired and a third suspended in March, following an incident the prior month in which an image of two nooses — part of a photographic collage — was temporarily displayed in a middle-school classroom, according to a district official.  

Many in Roosevelt hope for her return.

"We would hope and pray that any issues the school board has with superintendent Hazelton will come to a solution and understanding," said one community leader, the Rev. Arthur L. Mackey Jr. "There may have been some issues to work through with the board. She definitely has been of great benefit for the children."

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