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Director’s Dismissal Divides Charter School Community

Teachers and parents speak up at school board meeting.

The recent and abrupt departure of HoLa 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."

holaparent2 December 01, 2011 at 04:53 PM
I'm not saying my view should be taken over the teachers, I'm saying that in situations like this, there are various things to be considered and I'm saying that she wasn't dismissed out of the blue. Do you think it would have been appropriate to keep Maria in charge, just b/c the teachers liked her? I've liked bosses before that were fired. The teachers know different things than the parents, b/c they have a different relationship with the school than the parents. It could be argued that the teachers should have been kept more in the loop, but is that respectful of Maria's privacy or HR standards? Have you known in the past all the ups and down of your boss' tenure? I didn't mean worker bees to be disparaging. The teachers are the heart and soul of our school, but it still needs to be run properly. They have recently hired a wonderful interim director named Elizabeth Willaum, so your concerns about Jen overstepping can be alleviated now. I don't know if she should have been on the premises in the manner that she was for the two weeks the school was without a director. Who else should the email about firing and hiring come from? She's the founder of the school. How did Elysian and Hoboken Charter handle it? She was trying to ease the transition for parents, students and teachers. I can't fault her for that. I assume that with a new school mistakes are going to be made. No one is trying to break laws. Why such vitriol?
holaparent2 December 01, 2011 at 04:53 PM
I can't speak to the contract issue, b/c I know nothing about it. The Board meetings are open to the community. You are welcome to go and air all of your concerns.
Hoboken Answer December 01, 2011 at 05:07 PM
I asked some questions and you are trying to address them in the best way you can. Don't take that for vitriol as I happen to support Charter Schools. At the same time, being a taxpayer means there's an expectation of accountability and following the rules. Everyone has to follow the law including board members. To you question on how others have handled similar issues, perhaps you should advise the HoLa Board to engage with the local charter schools. But what I'm hearing is there is a lack of concern for the law and more an interest in the "I'm doing it, it's right" mode and the law doesn't apply.
holaparent2 December 02, 2011 at 02:16 PM
This whole thread is extremely vitriolic and much of it written by people who know little of what they speak. I wasn't referring specifically to you.
Concerned December 04, 2011 at 03:07 AM
As an experienced teacher and a parent, I have been working in a public school district for over seven years, and I have participated in at least four curriculum committees. Teachers are always doing the majority of curriculum writing. I myself have assisted with writing at least four all of which were later adopted by the board of education. This is common practice in the world of public education.

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