Thursday, June 13, 2013
The longtime principal of the Bronx High School of Science has decided to retire at the end of summer, even as the public school, one of New York City’s most prestigious, is mired in an investigation into allegations of hazing on the boys’ track team.
The principal, Valerie J. Reidy, who took over in 2001 after 23 years of teaching and managing at the school, said she was under no pressure from city education officials and was “not under investigation” in connection with the arrests of three track team members, all juniors, in March.
“Was I happy about the track debacle? No,” Ms. Reidy said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “But is there ever going to be a perfect time?”
Ms. Reidy cited her age — she will turn 65 on Nov. 28 — and financial and family concerns for her decision. Her husband, James, retired two years ago from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and one of her sons is set to wed in September. She wants to sell her house in Westchester County and travel more. Furthermore, she said, after factoring in differences in tax deductions, and savings on commuting costs, she will come out ahead by taking her pension instead of her salary, which is $150,926.
“I sort of had to grow up this year, and think with my head and not my heart,” she said. “Because if I thought with my heart, I would stay here forever. At some point in time, you have to say, ‘This is foolish.’ That is what my accountant told me.”
Her departure means that for the second straight year, the city’s Education Department will have to fill the leadership post at one of the system’s elite high schools.
Last August, Stanley Teitel, the principal of Stuyvesant High School, abruptly announced his retirement as the school was still reeling from a test-cheating scandal; he was succeeded by Jie Zhang, former leader of a specialized high school in Queens.
Lisa Rocchio, who graduated from Bronx Science in 1987 and is now its assistant principal for language and music, called Ms. Reidy “one of the strongest principals” she had ever seen at the school. “I think Valerie worked very, very hard to make sure that every child was educated and treated fairly and evenly,” she said.
But Ms. Reidy clashed fiercely with some teachers, including the chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers. Turnover was high in recent years in the social studies and math departments, as teachers complained of what they felt was an overly critical administration. The union chapter leader declined to comment on Thursday.
Adam Stern, co-president of the parents’ association at the school, said he felt that any “bad feelings anyone has about her” were based on sexism against a strong, experienced woman who demanded excellence.
“A man exhibiting the same qualities, in a similar position, is labeled a great leader,” he said. “Hopefully one day this will change.”
More recently, the special commissioner of investigation for the Education Department has been looking into the school’s handling of hazing complaints. In February, three juniors on the track team were arrested after being accused of forcibly touching the genitals of a freshman teammate. An internal e-mail written last year by one of the athletic directors noted that the team had previously had a hazing episode, and urged coaches to keep watch over the locker rooms.
The misdemeanor cases are still pending, and Ms. Reidy said on Thursday that her supervisors had told her she had “handled it exactly right.”