Board, Parents, Superintendent Defend Casale

Springs officials respond to reports of cheating at principal’s former school

    For Springs School officials, it has been a difficult month.
    First the assistant principal resigned, then the school reported testing irregularities to New York State, and that led to questions concerning its principal, Eric Casale, who had dealt with a cheating scandal at his prior school, P.S. 91 in the Bronx, before being hired by the Springs School.
    In 2005, the New York Post reported on a cheating incident that occurred while Mr. Casale was principal of P.S. 91. According to the Post, Barbara Lee, a former math coach who had since been promoted assistant principal, was accused of helping students cheat during a 2004 New York State Regents exam. The Post story alleged that Mr. Casale destroyed student and teacher testimonies related to potential wrongdoing. In a 2010 follow-up, the Post reported that the city ultimately terminated Ms. Lee following a protracted legal battle.
    Since the article and the 2005 allegations have surfaced, questions have arisen concerning whether Springs School was aware of such issues when it offered Mr. Casale the job as principal in May of 2005.
    Two weekends ago, board members asked Mr. Casale to present them with a detailed timeline concerning the allegations.
    John Grant, the school board’s vice president, who has served on the board for four years, recently allowed The Star to see a copy of the dozen-page timeline but would not allow for a copy to leave the premises.
    In it, Mr. Casale wrote that during his interview process a Springs teacher placed copies of the 2005 New York Post article in teacher’s mailboxes, ostensibly hoping to jeopardize his candidacy. It also says that he was granted tenure in October 2007 after demonstrating significant academic gains, both instructionally and also in terms of revamping the school’s overall culture. Typically, administrators are given three-years probationary appointments before tenure is granted.
    On May 19, Mr. Casale sent a two-page letter to the Springs community, describing recent coverage as “an extremely upsetting situation.” The letter is posted on the school’s Web site.
    The next day, the Springs School Board leapt to Mr. Casale’s defense, issuing a letter of support emphasizing that it had exercised due diligence and properly vetted his candidacy long before offering him the position.
     “As a board of education, we believe in the integrity of our hiring process,” the board said in the release. “The events associated with his employment with the New York City Board of Education were made known to the board before he began his employment at Springs. The record of his past employment in N.Y.C. — which in our opinion has been reported in an unfair and out-of-context manner — cannot overwhelm or change our appreciation and respect for his leadership.”
    Dominic Mucci, the superintendent, was similarly unequivocal in his praise.

     “We’re going to move forward,” Mr. Mucci said early last week, adding that Mr. Casale has been flooded with letters of support from both faculty and parents in recent days. “We have confidence in Mr. Casale, his leadership, his character, and most importantly, his integrity.”
    “A lot of parents are supportive,” said Pat Brabant, a father of four at the Springs School, who said that test scores had risen significantly since Mr. Casale assumed the post nearly eight years ago. “He’s very dedicated. He’s a good man. It’s easier to pull someone apart than it is to show someone’s positive qualities. Springs has come a long way from where it used to be.”
    Christopher Sarlo, who served as interim principal of Springs School during the 2004-5 academic year, was directly involved in the vetting of Mr. Casale. Mr. Sarlo, who had been a principal of East Hampton High School, said Mr. Casale was one of five candidates who advanced to the final round.
    “We had a very comprehensive committee process. We checked his credentials,” said Mr. Sarlo, adding that he spoke with Ray Rosemberg, a retired superintendent in New York who worked as Mr. Casale’s supervisor. Along with Mr. Sarlo, Edward Swensen also co-chaired the committee reviewing principal candidates. “We felt comfortable that he was not involved in any wrongdoing. There was nothing hidden. The board was aware of it.”
    When reached by telephone Tuesday morning, Mr. Rosemberg, who has since retired from the New York City school system, said he did not recall whether the Springs School search committee had contacted him.
    “Eight years after leaving behind a nightmarish attempt to destroy my career and my personal reputation, the matter has resurfaced in a manner that feels terribly unfair,” Mr. Casale wrote in his May 19 letter to the Springs community. “But I truly have nothing to hide, and that’s why it is important for me to share this detail with you.”
    The letter goes into some detail concerning the allegations made while he ran P.S. 91. During his second year as principal, he said that he began looking for a new position, both on Long Island and also in Westchester County.
    “This weekend, I came to learn that in August of 2005, about two months after I started in Springs, the Office of Special Investigations of the New York City Board of Education issued a final report,” wrote Mr. Casale. “This was never shared with me, presumably because I had resigned my position.”
    Earlier this week, The Star filed a Freedom of Information request with the New York City Department of Education attempting to obtain a copy of the report in question. David Pena, a D.O.E. spokesperson, confirmed that Mr. Casale resigned in July of 2005 pending an investigation. In an e-mail, he also said that “if he were to re-apply to work for the N.Y.C. Department of Education, his file would have a problem code that would flag his applications as needing further investigation.”
    “A single allegation against me was substantiated by the investigator based largely on the testimony of two staff members: that I had failed to report my knowledge of the testing allegation to the director of testing,” wrote Mr. Casale in his letter. “Of course, I did report it — to my superintendent of schools. But no matter; as a result, I was put on a special list regarding any future employment inquiries in N.Y.C. schools. No further action was taken against me, and no charges of ‘cover up’ or ‘destruction of evidence’ were alleged or substantiated against me.”
    “I want to assure you,” he concluded, “that I am in good standing with the New York State Education Department and that both of my licenses are permanent. I hope to be here at Springs for the rest of my career, as I have come to love Springs and its children, who I treat as my own.”
    A call to Mr. Casale went unreturned.
    Some have speculated that recent allegations have put a cloud over the school’s academic gains. During the 2011-12 school year, for instance, Springs was ranked 69th in New York State among middle schools, according to School Digger, a Web site that ranks schools according to state testing data.
    “Eric’s reputation is one of the most respected administrators in terms of testing security and organization. He has an impeccable reputation among the local districts,” said Mr. Grant. “With his career over the past eight years, he’s made transformational change at Springs. You really have to look at his record.”
    As it concerns potential wrongdoing insofar as state exams are concerned, Mr. Grant emphasized that the recent allegation concerned “one student and one staff member.”
    “We don’t believe there’s anything widespread. Still, I’d like the Testing Integrity Unit to take a look at whatever they need to in order to prove that the allegations in fact involve one student and one staff member,” Mr. Grant said.