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Teachers Call Out Principal on Toxic Environment at I.S. 347 in Bushwick

Many teachers and staff at Bushwick's I.S. 347 are not happy with their new principal, Neyva Rivera.

Intimidation. Toxic leadership. Disrespect. Retaliation.

These sharp words were used to describe Principal Neyva Rivera at Bushwick's I.S. 347 School of Humanities, as teachers, staff, parents, students and even elected officials called for the removal of the principal during a Friday press conference in front of the school.

Erika Meza, a teacher, said her mother, who works in the school as a staff member, suffered an aneurysm at school after getting extremely mad and stressed out with the principal's behavior.

"It was a shocking lack of empathy," said Meza. "My mother's life hung in the balance and not once did she check her breathing."

Sandra Diaz, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader and a teacher at the school, said Rivera would publicly humiliate teachers and scream at them. 

Gabrielina Henriquez, the outgoing Parent Teacher Association president, said the principal would give out extra tests that the teachers were unaware of, and in one instance, promoted a student to the next grade when the student wasn't ready and without the parents' consent. Henriquez claimed that student suffered mental health issues as a result of being promoted. 

As the school drew to a close, 58% of the school's teachers signed a no-confidence letter, according to Veronica Welinsky-Sorkin, the UFT District Representative.

The principal had just completed her first year as principal, but the school community was dismayed enough by Rivera's behavior that they contacted elected officials for help.

Two of those electeds, State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Maritza Davila, both attended the press conference. 

"For about a month and a half, I have been trying to help resolve an issue alongside the teachers and parents that are here," Davila said. "It has come to my attention that several teachers and staff are being targeted, abused and retaliated upon after putting in complaints in writing."

Davila added she contacted Superintendent Rebecca Lozada about the "atrocities" only for the superintendent to say she would not take Rivera out of the school.

"If your principal does not respect you or feels that she has an iron fist, it's not going to work," Davila said. "Teachers that have claimed that they are going to the hospital, she has personally shown up to the hospital to make sure that the teacher was in an emergency."

Salazar explained that I.S. 347's faculty and staff had spent several months doing what they could to rectify the problems.

"We're talking about abusive behavior," Salazar said. "We know that those who had the courage to speak up, who have in some ways risked their jobs...they have faced retaliation. We cannot tolerate that."

On the last day of school, Rivera suddenly fired five faculty and staff, according to Diaz. This includes Dean Darryl Wilson, who accused Rivera of cutting him out of his duties and giving them to Tommy Melo, a program director of Good Shepherd Services, a nonprofit that runs afterschool programs at the school.

Wilson said Melo went to more meetings with Rivera than he did.

According to Henriquez, Melo also began to take over some of her jobs, including organizing a fundraising event. 

A spokesperson for Good Shepherd Services said the program director was involved in one fundraiser and the nonprofit only provides services for the school community. 

"Good Shepherd Services proudly partners with I.S. 347, working with all school stakeholders to support students, families and the Bushwick community. In line with the Community School Model, we collaborate with school administrators to develop, implement, and assess initiatives to create a safe, inclusive environment. During this time, we are committed to ensure students and families have the necessary supports they need to succeed," the spokesperson said through a statement.

"A safe and supportive environment for every member of our school communities is a cornerstone of success, and a top priority at New York City Public Schools," wrote a DOE spokesperson on the matter.

"We take allegations of misconduct seriously, and will conduct a thorough review. The district superintendent is providing support to the school while keeping students at the center of all that we do. Currently, there are no substantiated complaints against Principal Neyva Rivera.”

Superintendent Lozada and Principal Rivera did not respond to BK Reader's requests for comment.

At the end of the press conference, Davila called for the Mayor's Office and Department of Education Chancellor David Banks to get involved with I.S. 347's leadership problems. 

In a statement, City Councilmember Jennifer Gutierrez, who did not attend the press conference, said the complaints about Principal Rivera's behavior were "disappointing."

"We want to support the staff with mediation. No one wants to hear all of that when it would hinder student success in the fall," she said.

if an employee has an allegation of misconduct against a principal, they can file a complaint with the appropriate investigatory body (SCI, OSI, OEO).

This story was updated on 7/3/24 to include the DOE's statement