The Springs School District, facing unwelcome scrutiny and media glare swirling around its principal of eight years, Eric Casale, is throwing its full support behind him with hopes of eventually appointing him superintendent.
The School Board, in a special meeting last Thursday, June 27, reappointed Interim Superintendent Dominic Mucci to a second—and likely final—year to the part-time post. The position is subject to the district receiving a waiver from the New York State Education Department because Mr. Mucci is a retiree. Mr. Mucci, a former full-time superintendent at Springs, will receive a total salary of $105,000 in the 2013-14 school year, the same as he did this past year.
Although Mr. Mucci’s reappointment was the sole item on the agenda at last week’s meeting—convened because it had an end-of-June deadline, Mr. Casale quickly emerged as the focal point of discussion, as board members sang his praises and voiced a need to assure the community that despite his involvement nearly a decade ago in a test-cheating investigation at a Bronx school where he was principal, he is still a superb administrator for Springs, a prekindergarten through eighth grade district with 681 students. Further, they stressed, an ongoing state probe into a recent cheating allegation at Springs is an isolated incident.
The beleaguered Mr. Casale, who was attending a professional development conference and therefore absent from the meeting, has been the subject of blistering articles in The New York Post and The Independent of late—although in a phone interview this week he disputed, for example, the Post’s headline stating that he is “under investigation again.” He is not under investigation, he said. Rather, a now-former staff member and student are.
In 2005, the Office of Special Investigations of the New York City Board of Education determined that Mr. Casale, while principal of P.S. 91 in the Bronx in 2004, failed to report his knowledge to the director of testing about a teacher providing “inappropriate assistance” to students on state tests, according to Springs. He did, however, report it to his superintendent at the time. Springs School Board President Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said he did not realize he needed to report the issue to the director of testing. His name was also placed on a list effectively barring him from future employment in city schools.
Springs officials maintain that they knew about Mr. Casale’s past when they hired him in 2005 following his resignation from P.S. 91.
“The integrity of the hiring process was never compromised,” board members wrote in a June 26 letter to the community that was prompted, it states by “confusion stemming from media reports.”
“The only legitimate issue of concern,” it says, revolves around the state probe involving state assessments at Springs in April. (That allegation has been linked to the abrupt resignation of former Assistant Principal Dr. Katherine Byrnes.) The letter briefly summarizes Mr. Casale’s background in the Bronx and notes how Springs officials were in the loop at every step.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez and Board Vice President John Grant said separately after Thursday’s meeting that Mr. Casale is the prime candidate to be Mr. Mucci’s successor in a year.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, in her final meeting on the board, spoke highly of Mr. Casale, teared up when she recalled his poignant words at a recent memorial service for a Springs eighth-grader, Anna Mirabai Lytton, who was killed after a bike crash just days before graduation.
Sean Knight, a science teacher at the school, also offered praise. “The more we can support him, the better. “He has done so much,” he said.
The board president also suggested that community members launch a newspaper-letter-writing campaign in support of Mr. Casale, and expressed an interest in encouraging community members without children in the school to be more active; otherwise their only connection to the school is a tax bill, she said.
“Without a doubt, he’s one of the best administrators I’ve ever worked with—and I’m an old guy,” said Mr. Mucci, who missed the meeting while on vacation, in a phone interview this week. He stressed that the issues at P.S. 91 are all in the past.
Mr. Casale, for his part, said this week he had been advised to refer questions about his time at P.S. 91 to Mr. Mucci or the district’s attorney, Ingerman Smith. He addressed the issues in a May 19 letter to the community in which he wrote that he has “nothing to hide” and that the whole situation has been “extremely upsetting.”
On Monday, he said he is happy at Springs and treats the children as though they were his own and is looking forward to school opening in the fall. “I hope to end my career here,” said Mr. Casale, who is paid approximately $142,000 a year. “I always think of Springs as the little town on the East End that nobody thinks about. We’re the little engine that could.”
“The goal is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them,” he continued, adding that he was referring to day-to-day little mistakes, as in scheduling. “Nobody’s perfect and I’m definitely not, but I think we learn from our mistakes and grow from them.”
A small rally in support of Mr. Casale took place near Hook Mill in East Hampton Village on Sunday.