Mayor Bill de Blasio has quietly appointed a professor who trains city principals to New York City’s education oversight board, replacing a panel member who voted to block two of his administration’s school closure plans last month.
Shannon Waite, a professor at Fordham University and former longtime Department of Education employee, was sworn in Monday evening to replace T. Elzora Cleveland — a panel member who abruptly resigned after casting a deciding vote to block two Queens schools from closing. (Cleveland has subtly suggested she was “forced to resign” but has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)
That episode marked a stunning departure for the panel, which is often considered a rubber stamp for the education department’s proposals. Eight of the panel’s 13 members are appointed by the mayor, who also controls the education department. Waite’s appointment means all eight mayoral appointee positions are filled.
Waite declined to comment on Cleveland’s sudden departure, but she said she did not feel pressure to go along with the administration’s proposals despite being appointed by the mayor.
“My experience so far is that people are very interested in making sure that I have as much information to make the most informed decision as possible, and that I am free to make an independent decision,” she said in an interview. “That has been communicated and that’s how I feel.”
Waite is the parent of a kindergartner at Manhattan’s P.S. 185 and has spoken out at previous panel meetings, raising concerns about a city plan to merge that school with another elementary school. That experience, she said, helped spark her interest in serving on the oversight board. The merger was ultimately approved.
“We were the school absorbing the other school — I was quite interested, invested and vocal in the process,” she said. “I think the [panel] is authentically invested in taking a deeper look and seeing how the process can be improved so that parents and communities feel like they have a say.”
Waite has spent most of the last 15 years working for the education department, beginning as a teacher then dean at Manhattan’s High School of Arts and Technology. She later worked as a teacher recruitment manager for the department, eventually rising to be a director of principal recruitment. In her current role at Fordham, she helps train principals who are earning master’s degrees in leadership, she said. Waite has also spoken out against segregation and the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
During her first meeting on Monday, the panel unanimously voted to delay its most contentious proposal: A merger between Longwood Preparatory Academy and Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research — both schools in the city’s Renewal turnaround program — while adding a Success Academy charter middle school to the building.
Still, the panel approved the following four school mergers:
- J.H.S. 125 Henry Hudson (Bronx, District 8) becoming part of Blueprint Middle School
- Entrada Academy, a Renewal school (Bronx, District 12), becoming part of ACCION Academy
- Middle school grades of Gregory Jocko Jackson School, a Renewal school (Brooklyn, District 23) into Brownsville Collaborative Middle School
- The 51st Avenue Academy (Queens, District 24) becoming part of P.S. 7 Louis F. Simeone