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Central Park East 1 Principal’s Notes -- April 11, 2016

Good Afternoon Everyone,
I have thought a lot about what I wanted this week’s notes to focus on. Should I spend time
addressing the current climate, debunking the information being posted on-line, or moving
forward towards change? I decided to a do a little bit of everything.
Our current climate – through the eyes of Monika Garg
There is a fear of everything in the air. This fear stems from the unknown, a lack of trust, gossip
and other variables I cannot control. What can I control? I can take ownership of my role in this
fear. When I met many of you during this summer’s Meet and Greet, I said, I had no intention of
making any changes to CPE1. Given the last 7 months, I can see why many of perceive this to
have been a lie. Let me begin by telling you why I made that statement.
When I started here in the summer, the information I had about the school before the meet and
greet were, the website, the family handbook, Debbie Meier’s books, the videos that have been
posted on-line and some conversations with parents/staff. Seeing all of those things, I thought I
was coming into a school that was happy, had curriculum, where ALL students were learning and
leaving here knowing what a 5th grader should know, a place where instruction was
individualized to each child’s specific needs. I was so excited that I had the opportunity to be a
part of this rich community where parents were not only present at home, but in school as well
and were role models for their children. I was even more excited to work with teachers who went
above and beyond their contractual duties to support student needs. I was determined to not only
work here, but hopefully have my own children attend this school in September.
The school year began rocky and this vision I had of CPE1 was not being lived in the present.
The school did not have a clear, comprehensively integrated written curriculum as many other
progressive schools do. I observed some students’ needs were being met, but not all. There was a
divide between the new and the old. Some parents feared for their kids’ education, while others
were fighting to keep CPE1 tradition alive. There were practices in place that would not be
allowed at any school let alone CPE1. I asked myself, how can a place that is portrayed as happy
as Disneyworld be so different when seeing it in action? The “changes” that some are seeing are
not changes in my eyes. They are my way of living up to what we have been saying about our
school for years. My asking for curriculum is not to box in teachers to a “prescribed” curriculum,
but to show the DOE what we do here and how we do it. How do we execute our teaching to be
aligned to our values and yet make sure our students are learning? Showing what we do to
outsiders is not the end of progressive education. It’s the exact opposite. It allows us to grow. It
gives the DOE great examples of what we do and possibly even replicate it around the city. The
best part is, I am not asking teachers do anything differently than they are already doing it.
The curriculum should continue to emerge from student interests and that will change with every
new student they teach. What will not change however are the skills students need to learn.
Someone gave me a great example of an emerging curriculum that a former teacher created
around scooters. The teacher noticed that many students and parents rode to school on scooters

and decided to do a whole study on them. BRILLIANT! Through this, students can learn math,
writing, science, history, I could go on. This was taught in a K/1 classroom. In order to make it
meaningful for students, the teacher still needs to know what math, writing, science and history
skills are developmentally appropriate for students of that age. That, to me, is curriculum.
Let’s talk about the investigations. First, let me share how I approach being your principal. My
primary job as principal is to ensure the growth and success of your children. This includes the
social and emotional well-being of all of your children. Creating a safe and supportive
environment for all of your children is just as difficult and varied as it is for teachers to teach
different styles of learners. It is never my goal to harm children or teachers. I am a parent as you
all are and, just like you, I send my children to school each day with the expectation that they
will be cared for, their voices will be heard, and their needs will be met. I recognize that
investigations are difficult for all parties involved and for the larger community, but they are in
place to protect children and teachers. Multiple perspectives allow for a fair and thorough
process, which this community has taught me is an important value at this school.
This process has not been an easy one for anyone. I am grateful to the parents who came to me
one on one and addressed their anger and displeasure about these interviews. It is through these
conversations that I am able to put systems into place to make sure all parents are aware of what
is happening in the future. I am only human, and I need your feedback in order to do things
better. As your principal, it is my job to uphold the rights of all parties involved by taking
complaints seriously and addressing them. The DOE requires me to do this, but I don’t take
complaints seriously only because I am mandated to. I do it because that is what the school’s
promise, and my promise, is to you when you drop off your child each morning. This is one way
that children learn that their concerns are valid and worthy. This is one way that they learn that
the adults who they are entrusted to will support them, even when it is difficult or unpopular. As
a parent, I hope the adults who care for my children each day afford me this same courtesy.
We are a diverse community with very different lived experiences and values. How to honor and
care for all of your perspectives and needs is complex and sometimes in conflict with one
another. I am working hard to accomplish this.
Now for my fears. I fear the unintended consequences. With all this negativity around
investigations and interviews, I fear that we are creating an environment where no parent will
feel safe to come forward if something does happen in the future. It is no secret as to what the
process is and how it has been condemned. I know that I will uphold my responsibility to all
students and families in school, but how can I do my job if parents fear the community backlash.
What message are we sending to the families that have had bad experiences? We talk about
empathy constantly and work to instill it in our children. When do we, as adults, hold ourselves
to that same standard? I hope that my own children are never ever harmed while under the care
of their teachers. To date, they never have been. Does that mean if another child in my son’s
school goes through something; I am going to blame that child or the parent? No. I give my full
consent to my son’s principal to ask him questions as to what happened. If the adult in question
hasn’t done anything wrong, I want the principal to know and if that adult has done something
wrong, I want my child protected.

Debunking on-line information – I am going to let everyone be their own judge. We always ask
our students to ask questions and be critical thinkers and make their own judgments based on
what they know and not what they are told. I am going to ask all of you to do the same thing. All
I can say is that when I go home at night, I can look myself in the mirror because I know that my
work has always been to support and stand up for children. I can kiss my own children every day
because I know I am standing up for my values and the values stated in the CPE1 handbook. I
will continue to greet you in the morning and smile because, my job is not easy, but the students
remind me every day why I do what I do. I will continue to support all families regardless of
what has been said, posted or implied.
Moving Forward – I choose to focus on the future. I choose to focus on doing everything I can to
make sure CPE1 remains a pillar of progressive education in East Harlem for the next 40 years
and beyond. The current climate cannot remain for that to happen. Trust is not easily built, but
we have to start somewhere. I am choosing to trust all of you. To trust that you will put your
child’s education first. I am hoping that you will lean into the present discomfort and attend both
workshops. There has been a lot of time spent on organizing these events in order to heal the
community. At the end of the day, this is not about, us, the adults, but about the children. With
Love and Hope,
Monika Garg