New York: City Names New Principal for English-Arabic School

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jan 9 14:02:24 UTC 2008

January 9, 2008
City Names New Principal for English-Arabic School


On Tuesday, the New York City Education Department named an educator
who has a "working knowledge" of Arabic as principal of the Khalil
Gibran International Academy, the embattled Brooklyn school whose
founding principal resigned under pressure after being quoted as
defending the word "intifada" as a T-shirt slogan. The new principal,
Holly Anne Reichert, 42, has worked in the city public schools for
more than nine years, first as an English as a Second Language teacher
and, later, as a teacher mentor.

She has also spent much time in the Arab world, including stints as a
Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen, as a teaching fellow at the American
University in Cairo, and as head of the English department at an
English-Arabic dual language school in Bahrain. She has a bachelor's
degree in Arabic Language and Social Anthropology from the University
of London, and master's degrees from the American University in Cairo,
Teachers College at Columbia University and Baruch College.

The Khalil Gibran school, which opened in September with about 60
sixth graders, is the city's first school based on the theme of Arabic
language and culture. It will eventually grow into a
6th-through-12th-grade, dual-language school, in which many classes
will be taught in Arabic. The school has generated controversy since
it was announced last February, with some critics calling it a
"madrassa" that did not belong in a public school system.

The founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, was forced out in August
after she defended the T-shirt slogan. When she was asked by The New
York Post about the phrase "Intifada NYC," which had been printed on
T-shirts sold by a Brooklyn organization, she said, "The word
basically means 'shaking off.'" Of the T-shirts, she said, "I think
it's pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are
part of New York City society" and "shaking off oppression." Through
her lawyer, Ms. Almontaser declined to comment on Tuesday on Ms.
Reichert's appointment.

Since August, the school has had an interim acting principal, Danielle
Salzberg. At a news conference on Tuesday announcing Ms. Reichert's
appointment, which takes effect on Wednesday, the new principal
declined to comment on the events surrounding the removal of Ms.
Almontaser, who has since filed a lawsuit, now pending before a
federal appeals court, charging that she was unfairly dismissed from
her post. "I'm here to start something new, and things that have
happened before my appointment that starts tomorrow are things that I
had no part in," Ms. Reichert said at the news conference.

She sidestepped questions about how she would handle sensitive topics,
saying that "all students in New York City and all students at Khalil
Gibran will be studying the same things, the same conflicts." But in a
telephone interview later, Ms. Reichert elaborated on her feelings
about the word intifada, saying, "It's a word that connotes tremendous
violent conflict, and I don't think it should be used casually, as on
a T-shirt." The Arab-American Family Support Center, a social service
agency that helped open the school, released a statement praising Ms.
Reichert "as incredibly qualified for the position." But the
appointment is not likely to end the controversy over the school.

Immediately after the news conference, Ms. Almontaser's supporters
released a statement criticizing the appointment as "illegitimate"
because Ms. Almontaser's challenge to her dismissal, and to the
Education Department's refusal to reconsider her application, is still
pending in court. "We challenge any self-respecting professional who
would accept a position at this school at this time given the evidence
of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism that hangs over Debbie
Almontaser's discharge," the statement said.

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