The Failure Of PS 114, Part 2
The city Department of Education says PS 114 in Brooklyn is a lesson in failure -- a school that should be shut down because students there are falling back, not thriving. But investigators say the DOE itself has to shoulder much of the blame for that. In part two of her series, NY1's Lindsey Christ takes a closer look at how the DOE failed by not stepping in when an administrator couldn't handle the job.
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PS 114 is $180,000 in debt and hasn't been able to get back on track after former principal Maria Penaherrera was removed two years ago. Teachers say they've had to abolish programs, counselors and support staff. Yet the DOE knew about Penaherrera's mismanagement.
"They knew this was going on for years, but I guess with the unions and all that it took time. But now the one's who are suffering are the children," said PS 114 Parent Michael Hall.
The DOE won't say why Penaherrera remained principal for five years, but it wasn't because of her union. And it wasn't for lack of evidence.
A consultant for the city wrote Penaherrera had no plan to reverse declining test scores. Teachers gave her the second lowest rating of any principal in the city.
Penaherrera's direct supervisor told investigators she "never got anything done," "went crazy with the budget," and "could not function without constant support."
Investigators found she hired multiple assistant principals then replaced them with expensive outside consultants. She used school funds to pay for traffic tickets, benefit tickets. She faked financial documents. She refused to let a student back into school after his family filed a lawsuit saying he'd been bound, gagged and locked in a closet by classmates. Teachers say she spent money on a whim, sending bags filled with books and teddy bears home with every student, then cutting a literacy program.
"Everyone we spoke to mentioned how badly she was running the school, including one of the two consultants she had hired," said Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.
Penaherrera trained at the Leadership Academy started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-schools chancellor Joel Klein. They say the key to reforming schools is empowering principals and holding them accountable. DOE officials don't acknowledge that a failure of leadership may be one of the reasons the school is struggling. In fact, Penaherrera started work at another school, in the Bronx, last week.
"Whose holding them accountable? We're gonna let this principal ruin this school, now close you and we're not going to be held accountable for it. It's really one of the most disgusting things I have seen under this administration," said United federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.
"We are actually paying for her mistakes. And the children are paying for the mistakes," said PS 114 Parent Crystal King.