Teacher flight feared at elite high school
By Karl Ritter

March 5, 2001

A dispute over the leadership of Bronx Science High School that prompted the resignation of acting principal William Stark has eroded staff morale and may speed up retirement plans among the school's senior teachers.

School administrators said nine teachers left in February and up to 30 could be eligible for retirement this summer.

"There's no question in my mind we will have more retirees in June because of the year we have had here and the treatment of Bill Stark by the system," said Deborah Stepelman, who has been teaching since 1967 at the prestigious school in Bedford Park. Stepelman said she wasn't planning on taking advantage of her retirement this summer, but the "Stark stuff" made her consider leaving "sooner rather than later."

William Stark, a 33-year veteran teacher and administrator of Bronx Science, was the top choice of teachers, parents and alumni to replace Stanley Blumenstein, who stepped down as principal last spring. But schools chancellor Harold Levy - Stepelman's former student - and borough superintendent Norman Wechsler blocked Stark's appointment, reportedly in hopes of finding a Nobel Laureate for the job.

The rift between Bronx Science and the Board of Education was exacerbated on Feb. 2 when Stark received notice of his promotion two hours after he resigned.

Stark said he was told a letter regarding the appointment had been sent to him "but that it had somehow mysteriously been lost in the mail." Stark added that when he finally did receive the letter, it was postmarked Feb. 2, the day of his resignation.

Neither Wechsler nor Levy returned phone calls.

Stark left Wednesday to become principal of Manhasset High School on Long Island. His replacement, Vincent Galasso, a former principal of Bronx Science, is heading the school until Levy appoints a new principal.

"It's my job to see that the school doesn't suffer anymore," said Galasso. "The first thing to do is to restore calm and get teachers back to thinking about teaching."

Galasso acknowledged Stark's exit had hurt morale among the faculty, but he wasn't sure whether it would increase the number of teachers retiring. Many may have considered leaving anyway, but according to social studies teacher James Uldrych, Stark's departure "probably did accelerate certain retirement plans."

Although teachers and administrators consider Stark's resignation a major loss for the school, they were relieved that the borough superintendent no longer supervises the school. After pressure from the school community, Levy removed Bronx Science from Wechsler's authority two weeks ago. Instead, the school now answers directly to Deputy Chancellor Judith Rizzo.

Linda Klayman, executive director of the Bronx Science alumni association, made no effort to hide her hostility toward Wechsler. "He has enough problems with all the schools in our district that are failing," said Klayman. "Instead, he decided to direct his attention where it wasn't needed."

But many at Bronx Science still had reservations about the new structure of authority. "It sounds good, but I'm not very hopeful of any part of the bureaucracy of the Board of Education," said Uldrych, who has worked at Bronx Science for six years. Klayman agreed. "There's no way to trust them any longer," she said.

Parents were concerned Stark's departure left their children in the hands of demoralized teachers. Hugo Chance of the Tremont section, whose 14-year-old daughter Brittany goes to Bronx Science, worried that if senior teachers retire in large numbers, the students may get stuck with a younger, less experienced teaching staff. "When I went to school," said Chance, "the people that influenced me the most were the people who had been there the longest."

Levy's office did not comment on when Bronx Science can expect a new principal or who is being considered for the job.

At Bronx Science, parents, teachers and students said that academic honors are less important for the job than solid leadership skills.

"It doesn't have to be a Nobel Prize winner," said 14-year old Shakira Lyn, a freshman from Parkchester. "It has to be someone who's caring."