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CAIR: New Building, Same Old Controversy for Brooklyn Arabic School

DOE Disputes Charges by Group Trying To Bring Back Ex-PrincipalBy Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

FORT GREENE — To say that the Arabic-themed Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), a dual-language grade 6-12 public school in Brooklyn, had a bumpy first school year would be a massive understatement.

Founded with the aim of providing the city’s children with a foundation in Arabic language and culture, the little school and its students soon became a ping pong ball in a game played by forces beyond its control.

Attacks by conservative groups, multiple location changes accompanied by parent protests, the resignation of the founding principal, a continuing lawsuit, discipline problems and charges of inept handling by the city’s Department of Education (DOE) are just a few of the highlights of the school’s first year.

Now, as KGIA opens for its second year in a new location (on Navy Street near Fort Greene), supporters of founding principal Debbie Almontasser charge — again — that the DOE is shortchanging the school.

In a release sent out Tuesday, Communities in Support of KGIA say that the school opened “without its full Arabic-language instruction, effective leadership, or any of its five original teachers or its social worker.”

Communities in Support of KGIA is made up of a coalition of groups including AWAAM (Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media), Brooklyn for Peace, the Center for Immigrant Families and more.

Among multiple complaints, the group maintains that the Department of Education “reneged on its original commitment to continuing KGIA as a 6th to 12th grade program and has not made a commitment beyond grades 6 through 8.” Additionally, they say that the DOE recently cut the school’s Arabic language program from five to three days per week and moved to a location far from the borough’s Arab-American community and subway stations.

DOE Answers Claims

A spokesperson for the DOE seemed puzzled about this latest round of charges. “Most of the claims in the press release are factually inaccurate,” Melody Meyer told the Brooklyn Eagle Wednesday.

“The most important allegation — that the school won’t expand to serve grades 6 through 12 — that’s just wrong. The school will grow to serve grades 6 through 12.” She said, however, that the school may have to move as it grows into the high school grade levels.”

Meyer also disputed the allegation that Arabic instruction has been cut. “There’s a period of Arabic every day. Last year it took place after school. Some parents had scheduling problems, and it became optional. This year, it’s been brought into the school day.”

Critics of the DOE complained last year that the cramped and noisy classrooms at the school’s old location at 345 Dean St. led to discipline problems. Meyer admits that the school’s new location “may not be as close as parents would like, but it’s certainly a much-improved school site.

“Real estate is a difficult thing in the city,” Meyer said. “We did move the school into a much better space; the old space had no real walls — there were partitions — and it was too small.”

Meyer agrees that there has been “a lot of turnover the first year,” but says that “four or five of the original staff are still working at KGIA, including the education coach,” who is now the assistant principal.

While DOE’s critics say that many students have withdrawn from KGIA, Meyer says that 90 students are currently enrolled. “There are spots for 120 in the sixth and seventh grade. The school is still enrolling students every day. We see a lot of enrollment in September across the board, especially in schools with a new location.”

Hoping To Bring Back Almontasser

While it may appear that Almontasser’s supporters are working from last year’s playbook, Mona Eldahry, founding director of AWAAM, says the confusion arises because DOE has said “different things at different times.

“We will be thrilled if the DOE publicly commits itself to ensuring that KGIA is a 6-12 school at its current location,” she told the Eagle. “Up until this point, they have simply not made that commitment and have been talking out of both sides of their mouths and excluding parents from the process. KGIA was a 6-12th grade school last year when it was in a space only large enough for one grade; there’s no reason why KGIA can’t remain a 6-12th grade school now that it’s in a larger space.”

“They need to commit to support the school with resources and leadership,” she told the Eagle. The coalition is especially adamant that the DOE “reopen the application process for principal.”

After Almontasser’s resignation, the school’s principal selection process excluded her and two other qualified Arab applicants for the position, Eldahry said. “There’s an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filing against that.”

DOE Supports Current Principal

Meyer had nothing but praise for the school’s current principal, Holly Anne Reichert. “Holly hit the ground running. She made significant changes — for example, she switched from two classes of 30 students each to three classes of 20 students. It worked; it helped address a lot of discipline problems. We’re absolutely confident in her leadership.”

Meyer told the Eagle that Almontasser is currently working at the DOE in the Safety and Youth Development Department. Before she developed KGIA, Almontasser held a similar position at the regional level. Her lawsuit against the city has still not been fully resolved.


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