Why the Save CPE1 Campaign Won’t Save CPE1

I’m an activist at heart and, like many of you, I have signed petitions and gone to rallies to make the world more just. I have a deep love for progressive education, I support teachers, and unions, and I care for the well-being of children, and I DO NOT SUPPORT THE SAVE CPE 1 CAMPAIGN!

I was at the forefront of Central Park East 1’s opt-out movement last year, to protect our teachers from unfair evaluations. I was involved in both campaigns to protest the co-locations in our school building. If there is an attack on progressive education or public education, I’m there.

This campaign is not about progressive education, high-stakes testing, or supporting teachers or children. Read carefully. It’s about removing the principal. You can support one and not support the other.

If you’ve been remotely connected to CPE 1 over the last 10 years or more, perhaps you remember whispers about problems with the school’s governance. Perhaps you remember all five or six principals who have come and gone in the last 12 years. Perhaps you know the veteran teachers who left last year, citing a toxic work environment. Perhaps you know teachers and administrators who would have been good candidates to work at CPE 1 who refused interviews and job offers. Perhaps you know parents who pulled their kids out of CPE 1 because of staff turnover and gaps in learning.

Perhaps, now, you have forgotten all of that and bought into the narrative that our current principal is the root cause of all of our woes — which preceded her.

As an alum of River East, member of the highly-regarded CPE violin program, and now CPE 1 parent and recently resigned Co-Chair of the Parents’ Association, I have a profoundly different perspective about the situation at CPE 1.

Last year, following news that 3 teachers were leaving and the principal retiring, the community held a meeting. At this meeting, some staff and parents reported that the Department of Education had cut the staff out of the process of hiring the new principal and we should be skeptical of anyone who is recommended for the job. Despite staff and parents participating on the hiring committee, the word was spread to not trust the new principal, whomever he or she was. It was Monika Garg. Why? One reason. Because the people who have controlled hiring for years, didn’t pick her. (Yes, they picked the prior principals who left or resigned soon after they arrived. And yes, for 2 ½ years they unsuccessfully searched for a principal to replace our previous principal.)

So who is the “they” I refer to? I leave that for you to decide. Since the organizers of this campaign have not announced themselves, publicly or at any school meeting, it’s hard to know for sure.

The Save CPE 1 campaign states that removing Monika is the only solution. In activism, there is never just one solution. But your strategy says a lot about whether you want equity or power.

This is a campaign about power. There are voices in the CPE 1 community that have been neglected and dismissed for years. Monika had the audacity to listen to these voices.

The staff and parents who have launched what I see as a hate campaign have their reasons. Maybe it’s easier to get rid of one person than to grapple with figuring out how to reconcile progressive education in a difficult educational environment. Maybe it’s easier to point fingers outward than to look inward at the fear and contempt driving this campaign. Maybe it’s easier to blame others for not understanding progressive education than to enroll them in how it is successful, even in the face of well-funded campaigns to promote test-driven, tough discipline charter schools. Maybe it’s easier to teach progressive education than it is to live it.

I still believe progressive education can be lived and that we can demonstrate to our children how to resolve conflicts without exiling members of the community.

We are better than that. Everyone falls prey to fear sometimes. As a community committed to social justice, peace and equity, it is our job to pull each other back from going down that tunnel and look for solutions that inspire and engage new members, not make them enemies.

Monika Garg is not the problem and removing her is not the solution to CPE 1’s issues or progressive education’s challenges. We have struggled to attract teachers and principals and I fear this campaign will only make it harder.

It is because I support progressive education that I cannot support this campaign. And I’m not alone.