Update, July 4 2:55 p.m.: Village Green reached out to BOE President Elizabeth Baker and individual BOE members (as well as Dr. Ficarra) with more specific questions about Aaron’s removal. Baker responded with the following statement. We will continue to follow this story and report updates:
“It is understandable that members of the community have both questions and opinions regarding the administrative changes announced this past week. Every email that is sent to the Board is received and considered. However members of the Board cannot lawfully respond to questions about personnel matters. This restriction is not one created by the Board. It is state law.
“For this reason, as parents have emailed the Board, I and other members asked that the Administration share what information can be shared with the public without violating the employment or privacy rights of anyone involved.
“In answer to your question about a Board vote – yes, as with all personnel appointments, the assignments that were announced by Dr. Ficarra this past week will be included in the personnel resolution at the July 16 meeting.”
The fallout from Saturday’s surprise announcement that Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron would be reassigned continues to roil the South Orange-Maplewood community.
According to an email from Interim Supt. Dr. Thomas Ficarra, Aaron will join the Central Office Team as a Principal on Special Assignment, and current Director of Planning and Assessment Dr. Kalisha Morgan will replace her as interim CHS principal, effective July 2.
Citing privacy issues regarding personnel decisions, the district has not provided any specific reason for the changes beyond the statement on Monday that Aaron’s “talents and her institutional knowledge will contribute to the many varied and exciting district-wide initiatives which we will be working on this summer.” Board of Education president Elizabeth Baker did not respond to an email from the Village Green asking for more clarity on the decision. Aaron herself has not responded to a request for comment. District spokeswoman Suzanne Turner said the district will provide a mid-summer update to the community next week.
That lack of information has led to consternation — and speculation — among the CHS community, many of whom are angered and upset by Aaron’s removal. A closed Facebook group called the “Emergency Committee to Reinstate Principal Aaron” had grown to more than 550 members by the end of July 3, and released a statement demanding Aaron’s immediate reinstatement and proposing steps to force a BOE recall vote (see full statement below). The group plans to hold a rally at the district’s administrative offices (525 Academy Street, Maplewood) on Tuesday, July 10 at 10:00 am.
Meanwhile, others have spoken on social media of their frustration with the pace of implementation of full access and equity for all CHS students, and what they see as Aaron’s responsibility for that as the school’s leader. One parent wrote on Village Green’s Facebook group:
“…despite the policy allowing for kids to choose their levels and AP classes and the continued assertion that it is being implemented, students are clearly stating that they are still being denied access to classes…That’s implementation for some, but not all at best. And if the kids that are not properly prepared in grades k-8 are being denied access to supports in the high school that they need…then that blame does lie in the high school as well as to all of us who are not pushing for the support that they need.”
Some asked whether Aaron’s dismissal was connected to a lawsuit filed in February by Black Parents Workshop, a parent advocacy group, on behalf of four plaintiffs. The suit includes among numerous demands “the removal and replacement of building leadership at Columbia High School and Seth Boyden Elementary School.”
BPW leader Walter Fields issued a release on Monday praising Dr. Morgan’s appointment and noting it comes at a time when SOMSD “must comply with federal and state law, desegregate its K-5 schools and end racially discriminatory practices in academic placement and discipline as determined by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR).”
The district has denied there is any connection to the lawsuit, as have BPW representatives. Personnel decisions are made by the superintendent and those decisions are voted on by the BOE. (Village Green has reached out to Ficarra and the district to clarify whether the BOE had already voted on the changes or if a vote will take place at the next BOE meeting on Monday, July 16; however, the district is closed until July 5.)
BPW Trustee James H. Davis III told Village Green that “as long as there has been no vote by the BOE, the personnel decisions of the Superintendent cannot be magically superimposed as a result and by-product of the BPW lawsuit no matter how coincidental the circumstances may be and no matter how much the BPW detractors attempt to malign the group.”
He continued, “This district is still plagued by many problems including the disproportionate suspensions of African American students, but no one is writing about the hours that I and a few others (community members and district personnel) spent revising the student code of conduct line-by-line in order to make sure those insidious and discriminatory practices don’t continue.”
The Village Green will continue to follow up on this developing story.
Statement from the Emergency Committee to Reinstate Principal Aaron Facebook group:
July 3, 2018
Within days following a surprise email on the evening of Saturday, June 30, more than 550 members of the Columbia High School (CHS) community have mobilized on social media to form and join the “Emergency Committee to Reinstate Principal Aaron” (ECRPA) – with a first rally planned outside of CHS administrative offices (525 Academy Street, Maplewood) on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 at 10:00am.
As taxpayers and parents of past, current and future CHS students, we as ECRPA members are outraged that Ms. Aaron was removed from her position abruptly, and without any clearly-stated or apparent cause. We are also deeply troubled by the release of this information on a Saturday night before a holiday week — clearly an attempt to bury this news and hope it blows over.
It will not.
Ms. Aaron’s combination of skills, energy and warmth make her uniquely qualified to succeed in a complex and challenging high school environment. She is at once an excellent administrator, a visionary and leader, a tremendous communicator and excellent mentor — excelling at one-on-one communications with both students and staff at CHS. She stands in the doorway of CHS every morning and greets students by name. She proudly attends an unending series of CHS events, whether sport, academic or club-related. She has creatively stretched CHS’ insufficient funds and resources in ways that have bettered the lives of our children and of students who are yet to walk through CHS’s doors.
We will not sit back and accept the disturbing and poorly communicated decision of an Interim Superintendent and Board of Education (BOE). We demand the immediate reinstatement of Elizabeth Aaron to Principal of CHS. We also demand that the SOMSD administration upholds our beloved community’s values of fairness and democracy in addressing this matter.
We are tired of seeing excellent educators and administrators brought into our district, only to lose them just as they’ve had the opportunity to hit their stride.
ECRPA will organize rallies, petition drives and other actions until Principal Aaron is returned to CHS. Additionally, ECRPA is taking initial steps to force a recall vote for the BOE.
ECRPA urges all concerned SOMSD parents, students, teachers and administrators to join in the July 10 rally and sign up to learn about other activities. You can find us by searching our name on Facebook.
Contact: Eric Shorter, ECRPA Spokesperson [email protected]
Sampling of 540 Founding Members who endorse this Statement
Natalie K Fisher, PhD
Elizabeth Cunningham Herring
Jen Levine Drechsler
Sue Ryan Goodman
Eileen Kaden Dean
Anne E. Boyce
Janet Meyers Trzaska
Keli A. Tianga
Shama S. Diegnan
Marnie Doubek, MD
Michele Slade Strumeier
Kai Adair DuBose
Maureen Fitzpatrick Griffis
Amy S. Goldberg
Morrisa da Silva
Cheryl Greenberg Barkin
Leo Catanzaro (CHS 2015)
Oliver Catanzaro (CHS 2019)
Eli Catanzaro (CHS 2022)
Mindi Burman Farran
Brian Farran, PhD
Sara Husted D’Andrea
Andrew K. Lipetz