Director’s Dismissal Divides Charter School Community
Teachers and parents speak up at school board meeting.
The recent and abrupt departure of HoLa Charter School Director Maria Acosta has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the school’s teaching staff, of which many attended Wednesday night’s school board meeting on Thursday night.
The reason of Acosta’s departure is still unknown and the members of the school board declined to comment on the matter. Parents who attended the meeting aired their own concern, and to showed their support for both the teachers and the school board on Thursday.
“[The parents] just want to say and make it known that we respect the boards decision,” said Alexandra Black. “We came to this school because of who is on the board. I trust them and whatever they are doing they are doing in the best interest of the children.”
Last week the staff and parent community received a late night mass email from the school board announcing that Acosta had been placed on administrative leave, without offering an explanation.
This surprised the teaching staff, which considered Acosta a consummate professional who was doing her job well.
“The first time I had to reread [the email],” said an HoLa teacher who asked to remain anonymous. “It was unbelievable, very unexpected. [Maria] was very respectful, professional and supportive. She always tried to make sure all parties were happy and involved, and made sure we felt supported.”
According to a second teacher, who also declined to give a name, a majority of the teaching staff came to the meeting to show their support for Acosta and outrage with the board for their handling of the matter.
“It was an abrupt removal," she said. "A lot of the teachers were very upset."
Acosta was brought in from the Lenape Meadows School District in Mahwah, where she served as an assistant principal and bilingual classroom educator since the early 1990s.
In addition, many of the teachers stated how Acosta was key in maintaining the peace between parents and the educators. Teachers expressed their frustration with at times overzealous parents, who would question their professionalism and even addressed them inappropriately, the teachers said. The teachers said they feel that the board has not set boundaries with the parents and Acosta was the one who set those boundaries.
The board reiterated they cannot discuss what happened, but said that the decision was not arbitrary.
“The teachers are the heart and soul of this school and we support them, and want them to be happy in their professions,” said board president Jennifer Sargent. "We are trying to do everything in our power to move [the replacement process] quickly. I have incredible respect for the teachers."
In the interim, the school’s business manager, who is certified as a supervisor, is acting as the school’s director. Sargent is hoping to have a replacement by the end of the month.
As far as any future discussion about Acosta’s reasons for stepping down, Sargent said it depends on how they are able to resolve the matter and without infringing on Acosta’s right to privacy.
Some of the parents did express concern over the handling of Acosta’s dismissal, and has made them uneasy about the school’s future.
“You do this eight weeks into the school year, to me that is far from stable,” said Paul Fried. “To me it seems the board is micromanaging and not letting the professionals do their jobs. I don’t think they thought this through.”
Fried and his family moved back to Hoboken for the school system. This is his daughter’s first year at HoLa.
“We are thinking about switching our daughter,” Fried said. “I am slightly disappointed and alarmed with what’s going on here.”
A majority of parents still seemed to maintain their confidence in the school, the board and teaching community.
Parent Ellen Marcus-Azzolini said she doesn’t know if the matter with Acosta could have been handled any differently because no one knows what happened, including the possibility that Acosta may have stepped down on her own.
“We don’t know what happened,” said Marcus-Azzolini, but she added, “my heart sank when I read that letter."