Thursday, February 27, 2020

Bloomberg, It Is Not Too Late

Originally Published 2011

Dear Mr. Bloomberg,

My name is Bernard Gassaway, proud father of 16-year-old Atiya Lilly-Gassaway. I am a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, and my dissertation topic is “Principal as Community Leader.” I believe that principals must serve as de facto community leaders if they are to faithfully serve their children. When I agreed to serve as principal of Boys and Girls High School, I was clear about the challenges. I knew that I would likely face many battles with children, teachers, parents, and community stakeholders. My job, like yours, is complicated. I can relate to you when you strongly believe in a position, regardless of the opposition.

The purpose of my letter is to highlight some things you may want to consider as your tenure as mayor comes to a close, particularly in respect to the New York City Department of Education and your legacy as the education mayor. I beg your indulgence as I share some of my thoughts about our system of education and the role you may be able to play in creating sustainable change.

Mr. Bloomberg, it is not too late. You can build political capital and respect by saying, “I was wrong to select Cathie Black as chancellor without community input.” Many see that selection as more of an exercise of political muscle than political maturity. No one, at this point in your mayoralty, should question your strength. You have crushed all of your critics, rendering most impotent. They may call you arrogant and stubborn. So what! You still have the final word. Some people may refer to you as being “gangster.” In some circles, this is an expression of respect. As a sign of self-respect, I recommend, again, that you demonstrate contrition and admit your error in the way you handled the chancellor selection.

Mr. Bloomberg, I agree with your espoused position that every child should have a highly effective teacher. To this end, I will fight with you. I may agree with other policies that you have implemented. However, I strongly disagree with your tinkering with your democracy. When you fire anyone who votes against your position (as you did with your battle for the elimination of social promotion), you create fear and paralysis. Your approach does not allow for evidence or reason to prevail. You have closed some schools in the face of convincing opposition. As I watched the school closing hearings, I often wondered why members of the public participated. Didn’t they know that you had decided to close the schools months before the actual hearing? Didn’t they know the actual hearings were merely perfunctory? All of the screaming and gesticulations were wasted, though valiant acts. At the end of the day, I feel badly for the children. The closing of their schools, without true due process, may have tainted any understanding of democracy that they learned in school.

Mr. Bloomberg, it is not too late for you to make a few changes in your policies and practices to become the true education mayor. Ultimately, you want to build a sustainable school system. Some of the good that you have done may dissipate as soon as you leave office. This is what happens to many schools once “savior principals” leave. All that they have worked to establish is undone by their successors. Why? They did not understand the principles of sustainable leadership. If you find the time, read “Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership” by Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink.

Mr. Bloomberg, I am not interested in joining the chorus of folks who scream and shout in opposition to your policies and practices, specifically your pledge to open an unprecedented number of charter schools or your failure to faithfully engage the public in meaningful policy discussions. Although some agree with some of your actions vis-à-vis education, many, including me, do not agree with your Machiavellian approach: The end does not always justify the means. I would recommend that you earnestly engage some of our preeminent scholars on school reform in ongoing analysis of our school system. The time is right for such analysis. I would also recommend that you engage community stakeholders in unprecedented ways. Invite the communities to establish independent think tanks to discuss and recommend policies and practices. Your current leadership approach absolves the community of its inherent obligation to educate its children. No school is an island. No community is an island. All are inextricably connected in one way or another. Since people are afraid of you, they sit back and silently criticize your policies and practices while failing to take meaningful actions of their own.

Mr. Bloomberg, it is not too late to establish a legacy as the education mayor if you transform your approach and let the democratic process prevail. Unfortunately, your current legacy may reveal that you used your political might to muffle democracy by dismissing the very pillars that support our society. You should not lead as if your followers are peons or minions. It is true that many folks are afraid of you. They fear your wrath and fury. They witness what you do to those who disagree with you. History may reveal that you were not unlike dictators who ruled with fear and an iron fist. Mr. Bloomberg, embrace democracy over dictatorship. It is not too late to change your ways. 

Mr. Bloomberg, when we look at great leaders of the past, all have undergone some form of personal transformation. Demonstrate a willingness to accept sound advice. Use the remainder of your time in office to allow independent researchers to study the impact of your policies and practices. On the one hand, place a moratorium on school closings, particularly on schools that have rich traditions in their communities. On the other, continue to pursue policies that would allow principals to immediately remove ineffective staff from schools, with swift and deliberate due process.

You may silence your critics by inviting them to propose better solutions than the ones that you currently dictate. By doing so, you may help to establish sustainable change that may last far beyond your tenure as mayor.

Let your legacy be that you began the real revolution in education. You fought for the right of every child in New York City to have a highly effective teacher in his or her classroom. It is not too late.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Hempstead Union Free School District Takeover

October 9, 2018

New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Members of the New York State Board of Regents:

Please take immediate action to “takeover” the school board of the Hempstead Union Free School District.

I will not waste time writing a rationale for what has been painfully obvious for decades.

I can only think of two things that have prevented the state education department from taking action on Hempstead’s dysfunctional school board: Politics and Fear. I agree with Bolman and Deal (2017): “It is deeply disturbing to see political agenda corrupting technical decisions, particularly when lives are at stake.”

Please do not delay any further. Act now on behalf of the children of Hempstead. While receivership may not be the answer, it is at least a start to corrective action. Each day of inaction is incomprehensible and highlights your failure as a governing body akin to that of Hempstead’s school board. Not to act is definitely a betrayal of the most vulnerable of our community: children.


Bernard Gassaway

Concerned Citizen

Friday, March 9, 2018



JANUARY 28, 2007



Bernard Gassaway is challenging the New York City government and its citizens to create an office that would be solely dedicated to child-related issues. The New York City Office of the Child Advocate would be led by an independently elected citywide official. The office will fight for improved child-related services, early childcare, children’s rights and education.

The city council and mayor are urged to put this proposal before the Charter Revision Commission to make it a reality. New Yorkers are encouraged to lobby their city and state representatives to support this initiative to have it put on the ballot as a referendum. They may contact the commission directly by calling 311 or via 

According to Gassaway, “If we measure ourselves by the conditions and treatment of our children, we are in crisis. Though such an office would not be a panacea, it would provide New York City children with full-time, independent, proactive advocacy.”

By all accounts, the city’s office of Administration for Children Services (ACS) is overwhelmed by the number of child abuse cases before it. It also lacks the resources and independence to carry out its mission fully. According to Gassaway, “An independent advocate would fight to secure adequate funding for child-related services. Most would agree that ACS is underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed.” New York City currently has nearly 2,000,000 residents under 18 years old.

Mr. Gassaway said, “Rather than supporting legislation to criminalize children at an earlier age, we need to aggressively address the conditions that cultivate criminal tendencies. New York City should choose to be seen around the world as a child-centered city, a city that leads the way in protecting the rights and well-being of all children.”

Bernard Gassaway is the former principal of Beach Channel High School and senior superintendent of alternative schools and programs for New York City, a Columbia University Charles H. Revson Fellow 2003-2004, author of Reflections of an Urban High School Principal, and homeschool father.”


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Curriculum of Inclusion and Correction

September 14, 2017

New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Members of the New York State Board of Regents [Individually Addressed]:

I request that you consider a comprehensive review of New York State public school curricula to identify omissions and inaccuracies that lead to ignorance and misrepresentations of history.

In light of what occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the movement in the aftermath to remove symbolic, though controversial, monuments across America, the time is right to do right.

When I was the principal of Beach Channel High School from 1997 to 2002, I asked a certified teacher of English to tell me his favorite James Baldwin novel. He said, to my surprise, that he had never read anything by Baldwin. I thought, how could this be possible?

Well, in 2017, it is not only possible, but also very likely that works by people of the African diaspora are not required reading in many colleges and universities (not to mention primary and secondary public schools). Therefore, students could go through their entire formal education without being exposed to any non-Anglo or non-Eurocentric readings. The implications of such a phenomenon are profound on many levels, particularly for prospective teachers.

Today, your 17-member board is more diverse than it has ever been. I fear if you won’t address omissions, diversity, inclusion, and correctness in the state’s curricula now, it might never happen.

While I appeal to all members of the board of regents, I especially call upon those regents who owe their positions to courageous forebearers to shift swiftly, deliberately, and conscientiously toward correctness and inclusion.

On behalf of current and future generations, please consider the challenge to continue a movement that took root with former vice chancellor emerita of the New York State Board of Regents Adelaide Sanford, the late education advocate and New York State education commissioner Thomas Sobel, and others.


Bernard Gassaway

Hempstead, NY (Brooklyn)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hempstead Community: Black Public School Children Don’t Matter by Bernard Gassaway

            Let’s agree that Black children in Hempstead don’t matter. Then we can stop the charade and the futile efforts to change and improve schools under the guise of caring about children.

            I find it extremely troubling that too many people have accepted, through their actions, that Black children do not matter. I am not one of them. 

            The purpose of this message is to focus on ways residents of Hempstead can change from accepting an education culture of dysfunction, corruption, and incompetence to promoting and supporting a culture of community, care, and competence.  This can best be demonstrated by strategically and conscientiously investing in our children’s education.

            A responsive and accountable school governance structure is essential to a good educational system. Hempstead’s current public-school governance (its school board) is dysfunctional and corrupt, which makes it impossible for children in Hempstead to receive a quality education. What is required to change the school board’s unaccountable, nonresponsive, and irreverent culture? First, let’s explore how we got here. Then we can focus on how to change.

            People remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by an assassin’s bullet.

            As longtime Hempstead residents, where were you when the hope of public school children of Hempstead was assassinated? When did the despicable and deplorable acts of corruption begin? Why does this continual cycle of corruption and incompetence persist, with apparent acceptance from community stakeholders, including politicians, clergy, residents, parents, teachers, and school officials?

            By any reasonable measure, the Hempstead Public School Board is depressingly dysfunctional. Sadly, this reality is likely to continue unless the community residents awake from the deep and depressing disposition of believing and accepting that things won’t change.

            Too many people in Hempstead appear to accept the current school system and are convinced that things will never change because that’s the way it has been, that’s the way it is, and that’s way it will always be. 

            When I speak to residents of Hempstead about public schools, they speak of the school system with such dispassion and disconnection. Educators whisper for fear of retribution, especially if they live in Hempstead. Some quietly argue that too many people who work in the system got their jobs through corruptionthis reminds me of the Machiavellian notion of the ends justifying the means.  

            Here’s what I know. We cannot blame children. Among all stakeholders, children are the most resilient. They are geniuses and deserve a fertile foundation from which to learn and excel.

            We cannot blame parents because they have limited to no options other than what the public school system has to offer, which is not much considering the overcrowding conditions and outdated infrastructure of school facilities, not to mention the poor quality of instruction and the limited course offerings.

            I will not accept that Hempstead is hopeless, as many longtime residents seem to believe.

            I offer the following immediate steps to begin to address the dysfunctional, corrupt, and incompetent school board. However, you should know that any effort to improve the public school system must be based on common individual and community beliefs and values.

We must:

·      Invest in our children. Address the education crisis as if it were a life-threatening virus. Repurpose our current spending patterns to maximize available funding.

·      Value family. Organize weekly and monthly activities to bring families together.

·      Value community. Organize weekly and monthly activities to bring residents together.

·      Organize local clergy to strategize on how to support and empower parents to participate meaningfully in the educational process.

·      Convene a planning summit of local government, grassroots organizations, clergy, and public school officials to devise a plan to replace the current dysfunctional school board. Establish criteria for school board membership, including selection and removal.

·      Create five- and ten-year capital plans to upgrade, renovate, and construct state-of-the-art school facilities. Devise a short-term plan to remove trailers.

·      Partner with businesses, colleges and universities, and grassroots community-based organizations to embrace and value education as a community obligation.

            In 1955, the Montgomery Improvement Association played a pivotal role in a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days. How long are you prepared to plan and promulgate policies and programs to improve opportunities for a sound education for children living in Hempstead?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New York Governor Cuomo Fails to Fight for K-12 Public School Children by Bernard Gassaway

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to keep his pledge to be the chief lobbyist for public school children. Cuomo said in his 2012 State of the State Address, “This year, I will take a second job — consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.” What happened?

What made Cuomo change his course? He has apparently chosen to abandon the fight for public education, and thus the children. I, like others, believe he has chosen to focus on a presidential run in 2020 instead. This is sad.

At one point in 2015, Cuomo seemed eager and ready to take on his most formidable foe, the teachers’ unions. He pledged to fight for effective teacher evaluations, turn failing schools around, expand charter schools, and quicken the removal of ineffective teachers. What happened?

The teachers’ unions unleashed a barrage of strategic media attacks. They apparently hit their mark. Cuomo quickly retreated and waved a white flag. Since then, he has been relatively silent on public education reform.

Instead of tackling challenges related to K-12 challenges, Cuomo announced his college tuition initiative. If his goal was to distract folks from his K-12 debacle, it worked. Ironically, the college tuition initiative is likely to fail if K-12 is not fixed.

However, when it comes to his inability to improve public education, Cuomo does have a trump card: he can blame the New York State Legislature and the New York State Board of Regents. While the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the states authority to run public education, the New York State Constitution specifically gives authority to the legislature to run education. The legislature appoints members to the board of regents (education policymakers), who in turn hire the New York State commissioner of education.

Interestingly, Cuomo appears to be comfortable with not being in control of education. Perhaps he has concluded that the problem with public education is irresolvable. Furthermore, a battle with the teachers’ unions might jeopardize his 2020 presidential aspiration.

As a teacher of teachers and a chief child advocate, I am disappointed in Cuomo’s lack of fight when it comes to public education. It takes a lot of courage to fight for children, particularly since they do not vote.

Cuomo has the gift of rhetoric. Unfortunately for children, he does not have the gift of delivering on his pledge to fight for them.