Jersey City teachers and parents disagree over reinstatement of former McNair principal

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During the public portion of the Jersey City Board of Education special meeting yesterday, several parents spoke in favor of former McNair Academic High School Principal Kate McCabe, though many teachers came out against her, claiming she berated them in public.

Last month, McCabe was informed that she was being terminated and when she returned to the school’s grounds to enter her office she was abruptly escorted out by security, prompting her to say that she felt she was being treated as a criminal.

It also prompted former BOE Trustee Matt Schapiro at the time, who has since resigned from the BOE as a result of a move to Los Angeles, to say that McCabe’s firing is the “result of a purge” to remove administrators who were loyal to the district’s previous¬† superintendent of schools, Dr. Marcia Lyles.

However, the range of characterizations of McCabe’s tenure at McNair by both teachers and parents gave the impression that they were talking about two completely different individuals.

For example, Frankie Maldonado, a social studies teacher at McNair for the past 18 years, described how he attended a barbecue in Cranford over the summer, the district McCabe worked before starting at McNair, and told those attending the barbecue that McCabe would be the new principal.

In response, several of the attendees told him, “good luck,” which he said he didn’t know why they said that.

But he noted that his initial interactions with McCabe were positive, and led him to believe that she would represent positive change under her leadership. He even said that he was her number one fan when she began her tenure.

However, he then witnessed a series of interactions between McCabe and other teachers that quickly undermined his initial positive impressions.

“Then I started to see things. And I didn’t believe it until one day I was coming into the building and I saw her reprimanding a teacher on the front steps. And then as soon as she saw me, she was Jeckyll and Hyde, [while] the teacher ran into the building and I approached Ms. McCabe who says good morning. I then entered my classroom and the teacher is crying; this wasn’t the first time this happened to her, this was the third time,” said Maldonado.

He then recounted another incident between McCabe and the same teacher at a mediation meeting.

McCabe reportedly asked the teacher a question about a particular lesson plan, and the teacher followed up with a question to clarify McCabe’s question which prompted McCabe to tell the teacher “I went to Brown University and I know what I’m talking about.”

Maldonado also noted that after McCabe made those remarks to the unnamed teacher, the educator got up and left the room in tears.

“This teacher, the only African-American teacher in the social studies department, left,” Maldonado stated.

A few more teachers proceeded to tell the board about other actions by McCabe that did not cast a good light on her leadership and oversight of student behavior.

Christopher Zeikel told the board, for example, that under McCabe’s tenure, drug consumption and vaping at McNair was common, and that student theft was also prevalent.

“In one case, I found a child with a laptop that was stolen from a teacher that he had in his possession for two years. This was after a string of other thefts he had committed. She offered no remediation or mentorship for this young man, and I was in disbelief when she said, ‘It was kind of like he borrowed it, because he was caught in school with it,'” Zeikel exclaimed.

Despite those remarks, several parents then spoke in favor of McCabe, and we had a chance to interview one of them, Elizabeth Islander, whose son attends the high school.

Islander said that she wanted McCabe reinstated because she’s only had positive experiences with her, she seemed very open to parental concerns and needs, and that her son also said that he had nothing but favorable things to say about her.

“I think the experiences of the student really needs to be given priority and high consideration when thinking about who our top administrators are and who our leaders need to be,” said Islander.

We asked her to respond to some of the teacher’s remarks that McCabe’s actions and words towards teachers was detrimental.

“That is of great concern to me because certainly the teachers play a very significant role in the success of our students … but there has to be a way to cope with this problem aside from taking the principal away, and who’s to say that this problem won’t occur with a replacement principal. There has to be a way for the principal, the administrators and the teachers to come to some sort of mutual understanding,” Islander stated.