Less than two months into the new school year, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has fired her first principal. In an e-mail to parents at Shepherd Elementary School Friday afternoon, she announced the dismissal of Galeet BenZion, hired by the chancellor in July.
As is customary with personnel matters, Rhee did not explain her reason for the abrupt move, which sparked a torrent of e-mails and phone calls to The Wire from angry parents. Clara Canty, instructional superintendent for the cluster of schools that includes Shepherd, wasn't any more enlightening at an afternoon meeting with parents, attributing the firing to "unforeseen reasons."
BenZion, former director of The Hill preschool, found herself at odds with central office administrators on at least a couple of fronts. Parents said she fought to restore French and Spanish classes that had been cut over the summer after teachers were fired for not meeting requirements under No Child Left Behind. She also had to fight for a kindergarten teacher after a staffing problem left the Northwest school short one instructor on opening day.
BenZion was not the first choice of a school community panel that screened principal candidates this summer. But Rhee chose her nonetheless. Even so, several Shepherd parents said this evening that BenZion had won wide respect and had brought some stability to a school that had two interim principals last year after a mid-term resignation.
"Dr. BenZion took her job seriously and believed it was her job to advocate for the resources we needed, said PTA president Earl Yates. "You have to speculate there was some head-banging."
BenZion did not respond to an e-mail request for comment. In a message she sent to the Shepherd listserv, Friday afternoon, she said:
"My Dear Parents,
You have heard by now, that the Shepherd school community has lost its principal today.
According to the Chancellor I am not the right fit to this community and it is best for the children that I am replaced.
I feel as if the flower has just began to bloom and was just stepped on.
It has been a privilege to get to know each of you.
You are an amazing community and I applaud your commitment to high quality education in the District. I am truly sorry that I have disappointed you."
Rhee announced that Jamie Miles a "school improvement specialist and a principal coach" for DCPS, would replace BenZion.