NYC parent advisory group condemns school district leader Kelly McGuire

A parent advisory group in a high-performing Manhattan school district has condemned its superintendent for tossing all academic screenings in middle schools.

The District 2 Community Education Council passed a rare 8-3 vote of no confidence last week after superintendent Kelly McGuire submitted a plan to rely solely on a city Department of Education lottery to pick students at random for middle schools — derided by one critic as “DOE Powerball.”

The parent panel has taken what appears to be the strongest action citywide in response to the admissions choice — and is the only one known to take a stand against its superintendent.

McGuire opponents argue he ignored community input, including from the education council, before making the decision. And they now fear eliminating criteria like grades and test scores will weaken academic rigor and cause more families to leave the public schools, or move.

The critics also raised what they called a conflict of interest; McGuire’s wife, a local college professor, has vocally supported the lottery system. A column she co-authored was published in the Daily News the day before McGuire announced his decision — and some parents complained their relationship wasn’t disclosed.

The no-confidence vote — along with a resolution against McGuire’s decision — has further split parents in a district where a schism had already been apparent.

One of the middle schools in D2 is the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies.
William Farrington

But McGuire supporters insist he’s been receptive and is providing a more equitable and less cut-throat school application system. Several pro-McGuire parents also believe the CEC is taking pot shots at him – including the claim of spousal conflict.

Schools Chancellor David Banks instructed each of the Big Apple’s 32 district superintendents this year to decide their own admissions plan for middle schools after the city, under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, paused selective admissions in favor of a lottery system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

District 2’s education council vice-president Kaushik Das, a critic of McGuire and his plan, called the system “DOE Powerball,” and along with others is calling for Banks to step in and quash the lottery plan.

“He could’ve supplied us with screened schools in addition to zoned schools with lottery and sibling priority,” the district council’s recording secretary and member Robin Kelleher said. “He could’ve given everyone what they asked for.”

“He didn’t need to be mutually exclusive. We could have all existed in harmony,” she added, accusing McGuire of pitting two sides against each other.

District 2 has some of the highest performing students in the city, according to scores on last year’s ELA and math exams.

Superintendent Kelly McGuire.
D2 Superintendent Kelly McGuire made the admissions decision that has divided parents.
YouTube

Banks – who has declared he supports high school admissions that reward student achievement – sent a letter to District 2 parents defending McGuire’s move.

“Let me just first say that I hear your concerns. But there are also many families that are in full support of Superintendent McGuire’s decision on this matter,” Banks wrote. “While you may not be in alignment with this decision, historically the D2 community believes that Superintendent McGuire is the right leader.”

In contentious CEC meetings this month, some parents agreed with Banks. 

Gavin Healy, who has a fifth grader in the district, said Tuesday the admissions plan was a relief and applauded McGuire for “centering the needs of all of our students in District 2.”

“I think Superintendent McGuire has led this district with integrity, compassion and great sensitivity to the concerns of District 2 families,” Healy said.

He called the no confidence resolution “grossly unfair” and said it includes “baseless accusations.”

Another parent, Jennifer Gravel, asserted a screened system would place a “superficial judgment” and “intense stress” on kids.

“My seventh grader is in a racially, economically, ethnically diverse school and she is getting a good education,” Gravel said. “Removing the screen admission process and improving the academic rigor of all public schools is the first step in addressing deep inequities that exist in the public school system.”

But parent Yi Shu said she believes the lottery system is unfair to students who excel.

“As a minority, the lottery-based admission deprives my hard-working children of their fair chance of attending a school that could meet their academic needs,” Shu said. “Meanwhile wealthy families could send their children to screening-based private schools. How is this fair or equitable.”

McGuire’s wife, Baruch College professor in educational study Judith Kafka, penned an Oct. 25 op-ed along with educational researcher and public school parent Adam Wilson, writing that academic screenings for middle schoolers are “exclusionary” and have led to the city “having one of the most segregated public school systems in the United States.”

The Clinton School is another middle school is the district.
The Clinton School is another middle school in the district.
Matthew McDermott

The co-authors cited a 2021 study they conducted in District 15 about the lottery system, concluding parents generally find the lottery system is better. District 15 is where McGuire worked as a deputy superintendent before arriving in District 2.

Kafka’s column was cited in the resolution slamming McGuire.

Kelleher said the op-ed indicates McGuire came in determined to rid the district of academic screenings no matter what he was told by parents.

“To be clear, I don’t think he’s a bad person,” Kelleher said. “But I think he relies more on his family’s or his personal ideologies rather than listening to all families in the district.”

Another parent, Sonal Patel, pushed back against that criticism during the Tuesday meeting.

“The legal minds on this call should know there is simply no conflict of interest because Mr. McGuire and his wife happened to agree on education policy,” she said. 

District 2’s CEC is not the only council to make noise about the lack of screenings. In Brooklyn’s District 20, its CEC approved a resolution last month about reimplementing screened programs at its middle schools.

McGuire referred questions from The Post to the DOE, which sent the letter from Banks to parents.

During a Nov. 9 CEC meeting, McGuire said he offered a compromise to parents who wanted academic screenings — launching an honors math program starting in sixth grade and Regents-level science and math courses in eighth grade.

“I recognize that there are other curricular areas that families might like to see acceleration or more challenging work implemented and this plan doesn’t restrict our ability to do that,” McGuire said. “We need to make sure we’re responsive to all of the students who are in our schools.”

Reporter Susan Edelman contributed to this report.