Press Release January 17:
New York City, January 17, 2008 – Statement by Sean R. Grogan, KGIA Science Teacher
I came to the Khalil Gibran International Academy after being contacted by Debbie Almontaser. Within minutes of speaking with her and hearing her determination, drive, and love for the principles and ideals behind KGIA, I knew I wanted to be a teacher there. Her leadership took a very diverse group of educators and created a cohesive team dedicated to the success of a school with a unique focus, Arabic culture and language. She built many bridges between the community and staff, opening up doorways that would allow us to provide the best possible education for our students. Those bridges were burned and those doors were slammed shut when Debbie was forced to resign.
Since then, the school has been abandoned by all those who claim to support it. We have not received the instruments and items we were told to expect. Our space is inappropriate; we have been forced to teach in a reading room and a hallway. The partitions that were provided to us do not reach the ceilings. Lockers were not installed until last Friday, leaving our students with no where to store their belongings. We have been left and forgotten. Teachers have been chastised without being offered the proper supports. Our social worker is being let go, against the wishes of many of the students, parents, and staff due to a personal bias on the part of the former principal. These things may sound trivial to an outsider, but most any teacher can tell you that an inappropriate location can hurt a child’s success. Add to that the number of resources we are not set up to provide and the result is teachers scrambling to fill in gaps that they are not meant to fill.
KGIA has such talented teachers and staff that if we are given the proper setting, tools, materials, and leadership KGIA would be one of the top schools in the five boroughs. It is time for the community to come together in support of a school that can only lead to great things for the city of New York and our country.
As of the end of the school day today, New Visions informed the UFT that they will be providing KGIA with a special education teacher to serve the eleven students who have as yet, gone unserved, a school counselor, and a parent teacher coordinator.
New York City, January 17, 2008 –Statement by Fatin Jarara, KGIA family member
My name is Fatin Jarara. I am a Palestinian immigrant and a college student pursuing a career in adolescence education. One of the many reasons why the Khalil Gibran International Academy is important to me is because my youngest sister is a current student there. When my family learned of the opportunity to enroll her in this unique school, there was no hesitation to have her apply. We were very excited for her and for the other students that would benefit from such a curriculum that the school promises. For children of Arab descent, the school would provide the standard education that other six graders in public schools would receive plus the incorporation of Arabic language and culture. There is no better way that I could think of, as a language learner, a student and a prospective educator, to learn a language than have it fused with everyday learning. The school was also promising for children who are not of Arab background, as it is was to introduce Arab language and culture in a positive light and a student-friendly environment, and help students develop understanding of others and embracing other cultures. This is a deep contrast to how the government and the media portrayed members of my community, but I guess there are those who would not like anyone to learn about our culture, our cuisines, our music and anything else that might prove that we are human beings just like everyone else.
When the tragic events unfolded prior to the first day of school, however, we became wary of what would happen to my sister and what would happen to the school. I have known Debbie Almontaser for many years, and have acquainted my family and many of my friends with her. Anyone that I ever met that knows of her, even people outside of our community, had only great things to say about her. Knowing that she was going to be the leader of the school gave my family no doubt that my sister was going to be in good hands. When we learned of her resignation, we could not believe that Debbie would throw away her dream of leading the school and jeopardize its wellness as well as that of its community of students, staff and family members. I knew that something was not right, and only extreme measures would lead Debbie to do this, and when I learned that she was forced to resign by the Department of Education as well as members of New Visions and the Mayor’s office, I was very disappointed but not surprised. The ordeal that Debbie is going through makes me nervous about how I will be treated once I become a teacher.
The Department of Education makes it seem like they are taking good care of the school. The first harm they have inflicted is to force Debbie to resign, which deprives the school of its caring and well-qualified mother. Furthermore, they have failed to protect the school from the slander it has been receiving from its racist opponents and the media. In appointing Holly Reichert as the new principal they pretend that they have solved all problems, but when I asked my sister about how the school is like since then she tells me that it gradually gets worse. Ms. Reichert seemingly does not have the leadership skills it takes to manage the school well. In addition, her condemnation of the word “intifada”, in which she also condemns a group of young girls, is insulting. She completely disregarded the true meaning of the word, which Debbie has explained and was victimized for doing so. Perhaps Ms. Reichert did not want a fate similar to Debbie’s, but this makes me wonder: if she was so eager to condemn the word “intifada”, what would she say to her Arabic-learning students if they asked her what the word “madrassah” means? Would she condemn that word as well, or do the right thing by explaining the true meaning of this word? Her submission to racism and bias is dangerous for the Khalil Gibran International Academy and its students.
As a KGIA family member, as a student, educator and concerned member of the Arab and Brooklyn community, I challenge the Department of Education to live up to their words. They are failing this school, its students and staff, and if they do it at KGIA, any school may be next. The Department of Education, New Visions and the Mayor need to protect the school rather than allowing racist and hateful forces to vandalize it with their illegitimate accusations. They need to provide the students and staff the support they need rather than jeopardizing the wellness of the school and the education of the students. Last, but not least, they need to reinstate Debbie Almontaser as she is the rightful leader of the school, and as she, being the one that envisioned it, worked tirelessly to see its birth and having been an educator for many years, will not be matched for her deep care for the school. This will get the school moving in the right direction, and will be a sign to Arabs and everyone else that racism will not be tolerated in New York City.