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Saturday, June 27, 2009

PS 20 Principal Sean Keaton is Arraigned For Assaulting UFT Rep. Robert Segarra

Keaton Arraigned on Assault Charge
By Andy Newman,

P.S. 20 Principal Sean Keaton was formally arraigned today on misdemeanor assault charges at criminal court in Brooklyn. Mr. Keaton’s lawyer, Richard F. X. Guay, (pictured at right) entered a not guilty plea on Mr. Keaton’s behalf as he stood beside him in the arraignment courtroom at 120 Schermerhorn Street. The case now proceeds to prosecutors for further action. His next tentative court date is Aug. 3.

Mr. Keaton, 38, was arrested last month and accused of third-degree assault against the school’s teacher’s union rep, Robert Segarra. Mr. Keaton is accused of repeatedly punching and kicking Mr. Segarra during a disciplinary hearing at which Mr. Segarra was representing a special ed teacher.

School principal busted for beating teacher at corporal punishment hearing
By Jeff Wilkins and Elizabeth Lazarowitz
Updated Thursday, May 21st 2009, 6:23 PM

It was an object lesson in irony.

A Brooklyn principal was arrested Thursday on charges of beating up a teacher - at a corporal punishment hearing. (pictured at right is teacher Robert Segarra, who shows injuries he claims were inflicted by Principal Keaton)

Principal Sean Keaton of Public School 20 allegedly punched and kicked teacher Robert Segarra during a heated exchange over accusations against another educator.

"You need to stop. I'm tired of you," Keaton said after approaching Segarra, 49, from the other side of the table.

"You need to stop. You're in my face," Segarra said he replied.

Keaton began poking him in the face, then suddenly punched him and knocked him to the ground, where he kicked him, Segarra charged.

Segarra, 49, said he refused to fight back.

"Even though he's out of his mind, he's still my supervisor," he said.

Keaton, 38, was arrested around 11 a.m., charged with misdemeanor assault and given a summons to appear in court.

He was removed from the school pending an investigation, Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said.

The hearing was called after two students accused a special education teacher at the Clinton Hill school of corporal punishment.

Keaton and an assistant principal were hashing it out with the accused teacher and Segarra, who is also a union official, when tempers flared.

"[Principals] have no right to harass or bully teachers, much less physically assault them," United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said after the fracas.

She said the allegations, if true, are "beyond the pale."

Keaton, who started at PS 20 as a substitute teacher in 1992, has been principal since 2005 and is a divisive figure.

Although some parents praised him Thursday, saying he was "very good with children" and a "good educator," controversy has swirled around him for months.

Anonymous comments at have called him "a disaster. [He's] authoritarian, defensive ... hostile and even abusive to some parents (including the president of the PTA!), sent angry e-mails to parents who dared challenge his authority, and responded defensively to any suggestions."

They complained he "actively discouraged" volunteerism and parent involvement, yells at the kids and will deny an entire grade recess for one student's infraction.

"Shouting at children and imposing blanket punishments seems to be the rule at PS 20," one comment said.

"He's a hothead," said a school employee who asked not to be named.

"I've certainly seen him get angry before," he said. "The smallest things can set him off."
With Jonathan Lemire

Eyewitness News
Principal Arrested for Beating Teacher at Fort Greene School A public school principal in Fort Greene was arrested at P.S. 20 yesterday for allegedly assaulting a teacher during a meeting to discuss allegations of corporal punishment against a special ed teacher. Principal Sean Keaton has been the target of intense criticism from parents lately—many of them newer, more affluent arrivals to Fort Greene, who see him as authoritarian and resistant to parental involvement. According to The Local, "the community conversation about him often seemed to break down along class lines... with working-class parents defending him. There was often a racial component to the debate as well (Mr. Keaton is black)."

The critics had gotten under Keaton's skin in recent weeks, and last month the Local posted an open letter from Keaton explaining, "my feelings have been bruised and I have been offended and threatened by many people in my school community but I never complain." Also bruised is Robert Segarra (pictured), a teacher and union representative at P.S. 20. He attended yesterday's meeting to represent the female special ed teacher, and he says Keaton went berserk after he demanded to know what witnesses had said about the teacher:

I said, “Mr. Keaton, you’re on top of me.” He said, “That’s right, I’m on top of you.” I said, “You’re in my face.” He said, “That’s right, I’m in your face,” and with every word, he poked me in the face, in the bridge of my nose. “Now you’re touching me,” I said. Then he swung and punched me. I said, “Now you’re hitting me.”
He’s got his knee on top of one of my legs and he’s punching me. He’s holding me down in the chair and he’s whaling on me. I’m getting punched and I’m still in the chair. Now after about 5 of these shots, I’m on the floor. And he’s kicking me. He’s kicking me over and over and over again.

But as he’s kicking me I yell out, “I’m not hitting him! I’m not hitting him! I’m not hitting him!” I’m just lying on the floor trying to cover myself up. Every time I said, “I’m not hitting him,” I got another kick or another punch or another scrape or another strike. I got hit at least 20 times. I finally struggle, and now I’m standing.

911 was called, and police came to take statements and arrest Keaton, who was charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, and released. (He's been reassigned to an administrative job away from the school pending the outcome of the investigation.) According to a statement from the Teachers Union, Segerra was treated for cuts and bruises at North Shore Hospital, and he tells the Local, "The police actually took a picture of the back of my head next to his shoe. They said, ‘Look, the treadmark matches.'"

Head(case) of the class: Brawling Brooklyn principal is a NY knucklehead
Saturday, May 23rd 2009, 4:00 AM

For taking the notion of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do to blatantly absurd heights, we bestow today's coveted laurels on Sean Keaton, principal of Brooklyn's Public School 20.

There Keaton was at a hearing into charges, filed by two special education students, that a teacher had engaged in corporal punishment against them, a very big no-no.

And there Keaton was getting riled in a discussion that involved an assistant principal and another teacher, Robert Segarra, who happens to be a United Federation of Teachers representative.

And there Keaton was, according to his arrest paperwork, punching Segarra, knocking him to the ground and kicking him, all of which are, of course, big no-nos - at a hearing into corporal punishment or anywhere else.

The courts will determine whether Keaton is guilty of misdemeanor assault, but it does seem certain that he did, in fact, lay at least a finger on one of his subordinates. And so he has been temporarily exiled from PS 20 to a Department of Education office, perhaps for a hearing into his own whacked-out conduct.


Meowmeister May 23, 2009 10:12:05 AM Report Offensive Post
This principal is a psycho. And the corporal punishment charges were trumped-up charges by this same principal, who manipulated the special ed students into doing it to help him get rid of the teacher. He was called out on it, and that is why he attacked the union rep. Klein's anti-union brainwashing campaign at its worst.

June 27, 2009
As Cultures Clash, Brooklyn Principal Faces Assault Charges

On Monday morning, the fifth graders of Public School 20 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, formed a sea of gold and maroon caps and gowns in the sanctuary of a nearby church. They sang a Miley Cyrus song, heard a speech from their 11-year-old valedictorian, reaped awards.

Missing from the graduation festivities, though, was the school’s principal, who during four years had won admirers for improving test scores, starting a host of cultural programs and taking troubled students under his wing. Though the graduating class had invited him to speak, education officials would not allow it.

The principal, Sean Keaton, 38, (pictured at right) was removed from the school last month, accused of repeatedly punching and kicking a teacher’s union representative during a meeting. On Thursday, while the rest of P.S. 20 savored the bittersweet joys of the last full day of school, Mr. Keaton was arraigned in court on assault charges.

Not all of the parents were sad to see Mr. Keaton go. His arrest capped years of growing rancor over the school’s direction and his often prickly leadership style, much of which precipitated in the crucible of neighborhood and school-related blogs, where Mr. Keaton himself sometimes joined the conversation. And dire as it is, the situation at P.S. 20 is a version of a conflict playing out in schools in gentrifying neighborhoods all over the city, particularly Brooklyn.

In the resurgent brownstone bastions of Fort Greene, Boerum Hill and the fringes of Park Slope, affluent parents with one set of expectations for their children’s education — progressive, hands-on, emphasizing freedom — are clashing with longtime, working-class residents who prefer stricter, more structured educational models like the one Mr. Keaton favored, leaving principals caught in the crossfire.

“It’s going to be really hard to find principals who can serve the different families that make up their population and can still keep the lights on,” said Pamela Wheaton, the director of, an independent site about the city’s public schools.

At P.S. 20, some of the conflict has been tinged with race: Mr. Keaton is black, as are three-quarters of the students, while many of the families who said they found him hard to work with are white. Much of it has to do with class. Some comes down to personal style: Even many of Mr. Keaton’s supporters say he can be abrasive and inclined to escalate rather than defuse tensions.

But the result has been a school community divided and a principal who seemed to feel besieged. Mr. Keaton, who has declined to be interviewed since his arrest, told a group of parents on a school tour last fall when asked what he envisioned for the school if money were no object, “Quite honestly, I’m all out of ideas for this school.”

Mr. Keaton, a tall slender man with a master’s degree from City College, was named principal in 2005 after seven years as a teacher and assistant principal at the school, a large brick box set among town houses on Adelphi Street.

Ms. Wheaton, of, said that when she met with Mr. Keaton early in his tenure, “He said: ‘I look out the window and I see parents walking by the school. Why is that? They should come in and take a look and give us a chance.’ ”

Some of them did. Dara Furlow, a magazine marketer, wrote an article in early 2007 for a local magazine, The Hill, about her search for a school. At P.S. 20, she wrote, she was “amazed by the small class size, large airy classrooms, orderly hallways covered with children’s art, the computer lab and the science room with its spacious greenhouse” and “particularly impressed with the young, ambitious principal.”

In 2007, enrollment at the school rose for the first time in more than a decade. Scores on standardized tests increased, too, though roughly in line with the overall improvement in District 13, which includes Fort Greene.

But tensions were growing. The approach to the children that some parents found firm and fatherly others deemed tyrannical and abusive. Many parents said that the more they tried to get involved in the daily life of the school, the more Mr. Keaton resisted and seemed to resent their efforts and presence.

The P.T.A., of which Ms. Furlow was then president, complained in 2007 that Mr. Keaton refused to give it a copy of the school budget, though the Education Department said that principals were not then required to share the documents the P.T.A. had requested. Parents of children in the younger grades said they were blocked — sometimes physically, by Mr. Keaton — from walking their children to class in the morning. Mr. Keaton also shut down a “parent room” at the school, where parents could meet during the day. One of the mainstays of the parent room, Cynthia Howell, the mother of a third grader, said Mr. Keaton barred her from entering the building.

Around this time, the Education Department’s chief parent engagement officer, Martine G. Guerrier, met with a group of P.S. 20 parents and Mr. Keaton to try to smooth out relations.

Although Mr. Keaton retained — and still retains — the support of most of the school’s families, Ms. Furlow and other disillusioned parents began transferring their children.

“My child had wonderful teachers,” Ms. Furlow wrote to a New York Times blog, the Local. “But Mr. Keaton’s unwillingness to admit deficiencies and work for positive change collaboratively with parents made it impossible for us to stay.”

For the 2008-9 school year, enrollment dropped 9 percent, to 399. A few blocks away, meanwhile, buzz was growing about P.S. 11, a growing school where the principal was perceived as welcoming parents of all educational philosophies.

Then, in March, the city announced that one of its three new citywide gifted-and-talented programs would be at P.S. 20. This ostensible good news set off more criticism on the blogs, of Mr. Keaton and of the city’s decision.

In April, Mr. Keaton posted a letter to the “Fort Greene Community” on The Local. He listed goals he had met, including raising test scores and forming partnerships with community institutions. But he also talked about the toll the turmoil was taking. He noted that a commenter on one Internet board had called him “Principal Mugabe.”

“My feelings have been bruised and I have been offended and threatened by many people in my school community but I never complain,” he wrote. “I wonder what it feels like to receive support in the areas of grant writing, parent newsletters, real fund-raising, enrichment, Web site design and team building like some of my colleagues in our school districts.”

He offered to meet with his critics, then withdrew the invitation. In an interview on April 21, he said of the new wave of parents : “I’ve never understood what parents wanted, except to be able to come in when they want, to come in and sit in the classroom. And you can’t do that in Park Slope, you can’t do it on the Upper West Side, nor on the Upper East Side. Why should you be able to do that at P.S. 20?”

On May 21, Mr. Keaton summoned a special education teacher to his office to discuss an allegation that she had used corporal punishment on a student. Robert Segarra, a union representative and kindergarten teacher at the school, came as her advocate.

Mr. Segarra (picture of bruise at left) said that at one point, Mr. Keaton began poking him and, when Mr. Segarra would not back down, hitting him. Mr. Segarra, 49, said he never lifted a finger as Mr. Keaton punched him to the ground and hit or kicked him at least 20 times.

Mr. Segarra had bruises on his neck, head and arms. The police said a stomp print on his head matched the tread of Mr. Keaton’s shoe.

Mr. Keaton’s lawyer, Richard F. X. Guay, who entered a not-guilty plea on Mr. Keaton’s behalf in criminal court on Thursday, said that his client was “presumed innocent by law” and “eager to be vindicated in our justice system.”

The Department of Education reassigned Mr. Keaton to administrative duties at another location, pending the outcome of his case.

On Monday, in front of the Emmanuel Baptist Church, where the graduation was held, Mr. Keaton’s supporters remained steadfast. “He’s straightforward and he pulls no punches,” said Kassim Sykes, 34, a delivery driver and the parent of a graduating fifth grader. “He gives it to you in the raw, and I respect that.”

Other parents agreed. “He should have been there,” said Marisia Rivera, a former member of the P.T.A. “When his name came up, all the kids turned around. They expected him to pop in any second.”

At a bus stop around the corner, though, Ms. Rivera, 41, an aircraft cleaner, offered a more balanced assessment. “When it comes to the kids, he’s No. 1,” she said. “But he can be evil. When you see too much of what goes on in the school, that’s when he doesn’t want you around. If he thinks you’re trying to bring him down, he’ll bring you down first.”

Whether or not Mr. Keaton returns to P.S. 20 in September, the new gifted program will not be there. The Education Department canceled it for the school last week. “We were getting indications that many parents would not accept their assignments to P.S. 20,” said Andrew Jacob, a department spokesman. “There wasn’t enough parent demand to open the program.”

modern dialogue
After Web criticism, Fort Greene principal requests public meeting
Posted By Elizabeth Green On April 21, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

A public school principal in Fort Greene is asking for a public, face-to-face meeting with concerned community members after Internet and newspaper reports described dissatisfaction with his leadership.

One report [1], in the Brooklyn Paper, said unhappiness with the principal, Sean Keaton, of the Clinton Hill School, P.S. 20, is behind a surge of interest in the nearby Community Roots charter school. Another report [2], at [3], includes a parent describing Keaton as “authoritarian,” “hostile,” and “abusive.” The frustration comes as a flood of middle class families are moving to the Brooklyn neighborhood – and often searching for options outside P.S. 20, their zoned school. The Brooklyn Paper reported that only 27% of kindergarten-aged students zoned for P.S. 20 attend it.

Parents posting in the comments sections of the Times blog and at Insideschools said they feel Keaton shuts them out of the school. One said that he has a “closed door policy to the parents.”

Keaton has in the past issued replies to Insideschools defending himself. Today, he replied to the dismal characterization today in an open letter submitted to the comments section of the New York Times’ new local blog [4] for the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill sections of Brooklyn. The letter acknowledges that many have expressed concerns with the school, including some comments that Keaton says tied him to Robert Mugabe and Adolf Hitler. (For the record, I can’t find any such comments.)

Keaton, in his letter, says that the comments are difficult for him to deal with because he feels he’s accomplished a lot at the school, including partnerships with local museums, rising test scores, and a new citywide gifted and talented program that’s part of the Bloomberg administration’s recent expansion of gifted programs. [5] “My feelings have been bruised and I have been offended and threatened,” he writes. Then Keaton asks readers to bring their grievances to him in public, face-to-face — a desire Keaton just reiterated in a comment [6]:

I believe this spirited debate warrants a face-to-face conversation. Someone please suggest potential dates, times, and location for a meeting. I will attend!

So far, responses focus on concerns about Keaton’s writing skills and questions about the difference between “progressive” and “traditional” styles of education. No one has responded with a specific time to hold a meeting.

The controversial principal of Fort Greene’s PS 20 was arrested last Thursday morning for allegedly assaulting a teacher during a disciplinary hearing.

The principal, Sean Keaton, was charged with punching and kicking the school’s teacher union representative during a meeting about whether a special ed teacher used corporal punishment against a student in the school on Adelphi Street.

The Daily News reported that Keaton suddenly became enraged at Robert Segarra, the United Federation of Teachers rep and a kindergarten teacher himself, before launching into the violent episode that culminates Keaton’s rocky tenure at the helm of PS 20, where school enrollment has dropped in the gentrifying neighborhood.

The shamed principal was immediately reassigned to administrative duties elsewhere in the school system and will not be back at the elementary school until a police investigation is complete, said Andrew Jacob, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

Keaton started teaching at PS 20 in the 1990s and became the principal there in 2005. He quickly became a divisive figure with some parents singing his praises and others slamming him as a tyrant — some actually comparing him on Web sites to Adolf Hitler and Zimbabwe’s brutal president Robert Mugabe.

The total student population has shrunk, and only 27 percent of eligible kindergarten students from the neighborhood choose to attend PS 20. Next year, there will be only two kindergarten classes, down from three this year, because of declining enrollment.

Pushed to the brink by the intense criticism, Keaton wrote a letter last month published on a New York Times blog, defending himself (See below - Editor).

“My feelings have been bruised and I have been offended and threatened by many people in my school community but I never complain,” the letter said. “I believe the number of supporters far exceeds the number of detractors. Honestly speaking, my ultimate goal is to lead a school that I would enroll my child without hand-picking his teachers.”

Keaton did not return our call.

Keaton’s arrest dominated conversation in the schoolyard on Tuesday morning as parents dropped off their children.

There seemed to be universal disdain for his alleged attack on the kindergarten teacher, but opinion was split on his performance before the scandal broke late Thursday.

“Overall, I’m disgusted at his actions,” said Veronica Jones, who accused Keaton of hypocrisy and was not a fan of him before the violent outburst. “He’s quick to tell the children right from wrong. If this is the example we’re going to set, we’re in a world of trouble.”

Other parents did not believe the police report.

“I thought he was a great guy,” said Zora Jamil, whose son is in kindergarten. “He was stern with [the students], which I find necessary, but I was shocked at the arrest.”

Updated 05:34 pm, May, 28 2009: Story was updated to add comments from parents.

April 20, 2009, 10:13 am
An Open Letter from the P.S. 20 Principal
By Sean Keaton

Sean Keaton, the principal of P.S. 20, sent this in as a comment yesterday. It’s of sufficient interest that we are running it now as a post. We present it unedited.

Hello Fort Greene Community,

When I accepted the principalship at the Clinton Hill School\PS 20 four years ago, I set out to accomplish five goals.

1. Implement new arts and enrichment programming. Build partnerships with BMA, BAM and BBG.

2. Increase standardized test scores for students in grades 3, 4 and 5.

3. Improve the reputation of the school, because so many local families opted to send their child(ren) to schools in different school districts. For the record this trend started, before I became the principal.

4. Open the school to the community at-large to participate in organized school based activities during the day, at night and on the weekends.

5. Take the school citywide.

Unfortunately, goal number four has been a point of contention for some members of the community. On local blogs I am referred to as Mugabe and Hitler; as in John Mugabe president of Zimbabwe and Adolf Hitler. The only thing I have in common with John Mugabe is that we are both men of color. For the record I have never met or spoken to the man. And, there is no similarity between Adolf Hitler and myself.

My feelings have been bruised and I have been offended and threatened by many people in my school community but I never complain. I believe the number of supporters far exceeds the number of detractors. Honestly speaking my ultimate goal is to lead a school that I would enroll my child without hand-picking his teachers.

During my tenure I have met with many people who shared their desire to change PS 20 into a either a coop, charter, magnet or a private school without tuition fees. Yes, this has been articulated to me! I will work with anyone who wants to work with me on improving what we have in place.

With the support of a very small group of people (staff not included) I have accomplished each of the aforementioned goals, as well as others that make me proud. I wonder what it feels like to receive support in the areas of grantwriting, parent newsletters, real fundraising, enrichment, website design and team building like some of my colleagues in our school districts. These are tangible areas that our school needs support.

The staff and I have worked tirelessly to improve student achievement and rebuild the reputation of the school; it is evident in the work that we do daily. The TIER citywide gifted and talented program at PS 20 is great news for Brooklyn. The staff and I have accomplished something that has never been done in the history of the NYC Department of Education. For this we should receive applause from the community, but instead I am misquoted by Scout and blasted by bobbycue above.

I am available to meet and listen to the community (preferably large groups) about any matter related to PS 20. Dates, times and location are negotiable, but I am available.

Yours truly,

Sean Keaton
Clinton Hill School\PS 20
225 Adelphi Street
Brooklyn, NY 11205

PS Citywide gifted and talented status is not a gift, but the results of four years of hard work.