Many Island Park parents were surprised when they received a late June newsletter from Island Park superintendent Dr. Rosemarie Bovino that said, “I was notified last Friday that Lincoln Orens principal John Barnes will not be returning in September. He will have a much easier commute from the Bronx to his new job in New Rochelle.”
Several parents called the Herald to say that they were at first perplexed by the fact that a popular school administrator was leaving the district with little notice and without saying goodbye and then angered by the lack of information as to why he had resigned his position. The parents got together over coffee a few days after the notice was given.
“Barnes told the kids in June that he would see them in September,” said one parent of a seventh grader who asked not to be identified because she fears “negative retaliation.”
“Why would he leave like that? He brought light out of the darkness that the school had become. He loved and respected the kids and they returned that love and respect. He stopped bullying in the school. He was the perfect principal and then he just up and left with no explanation, no goodbye to the kids. They are devastated. My son does not want to go back to school.”
The parents got together a petition calling on Bovino to do what she could to bring Barnes back to Island Park, even though the information the parents heard through the grapevine was that he had taken a better-paying job closer to home. The parents quickly got 300 signatures. More than 100 parents and students crowded the Island Park school board meeting on July 6, angrily demanding to know why Barnes was leaving and to demand that Bovino bring him back.
Forty parents and students spoke. Some were openly angry at the former principal’s leaving. Others got emotional and cried at the thought. School board members and Bovino told them that it was a simple matter of Barnes finding a new, better-paying job closer to home.
Parents, however, do not believe that. At the meeting, the parents challenged Bovino and board members to provide “the real truth about why Barnes abruptly resigned a job” that he repeatedly said that he loved.
“Bovino never gave him any support or the tools to make decisions and move the school forward,” said one parent at the meeting, who asked to remain anonymous. “He was bullied out of the school by Bovino. He was kept in the dark about the possibility of tenure and he was given poor evaluations when weaker supervisors got superior evaluations.”
Another parent at the meeting argued that he was treated poorly and left because he saw the “handwriting on the wall.”
“Why couldn’t they have offered him tenure and more money to stay?” a parent at the meeting asked. “We had 300 signatures on a petition asking the district to get him to stay. We could have had 600 if we had more time. Everybody wants him to stay. He rebuilt morale in the school, rebuilt education.”
Barnes has an extensive resume that includes teaching social studies, fourth grade and music and working as a curriculum writer. Most recently, Barnes was chosen in 2008 as one of five people in the Manhattan school district to work as an executive principal. The job of an executive principal is to turn around a failing school, and Barnes’ school was regarded as the most improved school in 2008. When he first came to Island Park from Manhattan in 2011, Barnes said he was excited to bring his experience to a smaller, tight-knit community.
“I feel like with the district being small, it calls for people to wear different hats, to play different roles,” said Barnes. “We have such caring and committed teachers and such wonderful families, I’m so excited to be here.”
Barnes’ hiring in New Rochelle, New York, was not without controversy.
According to the “Talk of the Sound” blog, which covers the New Rochelle community, the Board of Education voted on July 3 to approve the hiring of John Barnes as the new principal at Albert Leonard Middle School to replace outgoing principal Dr. Velma Whiteside. Two members of the board expressed great unhappiness with the hiring process. Barnes reportedly told parents who contacted him after his resignation that he did not really want to speak about why he left Island Park. He was not available to the Herald for comment.