Support Rallied for Elementary Principal

    Since Gina Kraus, the principal of the John M. Marshall Elementary School, gathered her staff last Tuesday to announce that she would not be granted tenure and that her role as an administrator would end in June, parents have mobilized in defense.
    At Tuesday night’s East Hampton School Board meeting, parents plan to turn out in large numbers so that their voices can be heard and their concerns aired publicly — even if the airing of those opinions has no bearing on the final outcome.
    Last Thursday, four John Marshall PTA board members sent out an e-mail to the school’s parents, informing them that Ms. Kraus had been denied tenure.
    “A group of concerned parents has formed and is organizing an effort to persuade Rich Burns that his recommendation to the board of education regarding Gina Kraus is not in the best interest of our children or our elementary school,” read the e-mail. “We, as parents, and as the J.M.M.E.S. PTA board, support these parents in their efforts and hope you too will involve yourself in making sure the most responsible decisions are made regarding the education and educational environment of your child/ren.”
    Beneath the PTA’s e-mail was an additional letter, signed by five John Marshall parents, Courtney Garneau, Liz Genovesi, Kate Dodge McCarty, Michelle Musnicki, and Wendy Geehreng Walters.
    “If you feel strongly about supporting Gina and ending the revolving door of administrators at John Marshall, and in our district in general, please make every effort to join the many who feel that an injustice is being done at our school,” read the second letter.
    It asked that parents consider attending Tuesday’s school board meeting, “which will be open for public comment (and may potentially be our final opportunity to voice our opposition).” Additionally, it asked that parents e-mail both Richard Burns, the district superintendent, and also the school board to signal their support of Ms. Kraus’s tenure.
    Since last week’s meeting, neither Mr. Burns nor Ms. Kraus has returned calls requesting a comment. 
    But while parents desire a public airing of their concerns, the decision to grant tenure to an administrator rests with the superintendent and the superintendent alone. According to a document related to principal tenure on the School Administrators Association of New York State’s Web site, the decision is not up to the board.
     “If the superintendent makes a negative recommendation on tenure, the board cannot vote to appoint the individual on tenure,” the document explains. It further noted that while the board cannot vote to grant tenure, it can decide to accept or reject a positive recommendation.
    The board president, George Aman, confirmed that any issues related to Ms. Kraus’s tenure will not appear on next week’s agenda — and that the board will not vote on it.
    Nevertheless, many parents still plan to speak out.
    “No matter what, people are going to go to the meeting. The superintendent needs to hear from us,” said Ms. Garneau, who spoke at last week’s meeting and whose three children attend John Marshall.
    Meanwhile, a separate dispute has arisen among parents who think the PTA should never have endorsed such a letter in the first place.
    One of the most outspoken opponents is Stacey Soloviev, the former John Marshall PTA president. She is also a member of the district’s committee on special education. She labeled the PTA’s endorsement as a “misuse of authority.”
    In an e-mail sent on Tuesday afternoon to the school’s PTA board members, Ms. Soloviev, who has five children at the elementary school, said that the board had overstepped its bounds and in so doing “marginalized the opinions of those parents who agree she should not get tenure, most likely making them even less likely to speak up.”
    She cited the New York State PTA’s guidelines related to lobbying and political activity, writing that “PTAs may not make statements (oral or written) supporting or opposing any candidate for public office.”
    Ms. Soloviev said that endorsing someone and lobbying for them at school board meetings and trying to sway the vote of public officials constitutes illegal activity. While Ms. Kraus is not a public official, she cautioned that members of the board of education are.
    “This decision has already been made, storming the board meetings with hostility with the intent to make the superintendent change his mind is bullying, the very thing we are trying to stop in our schools and community,” wrote Ms. Soloviev.
     “It’s wonderful that there’s all this positive stuff about Gina Kraus, who has done amazing things. But it’s not up to us if she gets tenure or not,” Ms. Soloviev said.
     “It has come to our attention that we misstepped,” Christy Cober, vice president of John Marshall’s PTA, said yesterday. “On behalf of the board, we apologize for that. We didn’t realize that forwarding on the e-mail from the group of parents was not within our purview, and had we known that, we wouldn’t have done it. . . . Our purpose is not to alienate anyone ever.”
    Meanwhile, the reason why Ms. Kraus was not granted tenure is still unknown, and may remain so.
     “For the life of me, I cannot figure it out,” said Chris Tracey, the former principal of John Marshall. During his tenure, Ms. Kraus served as assistant principal. “I have called and the calls have not been returned.” He described Ms. Kraus in glowing terms, calling her “one of the finest administrators I have ever worked with.”
    Ms. Garneau described the school and district as being on “lockdown, and no one’s talking.”
    Despite the political infighting, several parents interviewed see Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity to finally air their grievances. Organizers have requested that the meeting be moved from its usual location in the district office to East Hampton High School’s auditorium to accommodate more people. Further, babysitting services may also be offered so that additional parents can attend.
     “At the end of next Tuesday, we want Gina to know that many parents appreciated her dedication and hard work,” said Ms. Geehreng Walters, who has two children at John Marshall. “This is not a matter of whether we support the superintendent or the board of education, but it’s about the appreciation of our principal.”