DEBORAH MEIER’S STAND ON CENTRAL PARK EAST I: A CRUCIBLE FOR PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION
In 1974, a small elementary school blossomed in East Harlem. The seeds were planted by Deborah Meier, renowned thinker, teacher, principal, education activist, and recipient of a McArthur “genius” award. Blessed by Anthony Alvarado, a forward-thinking superintendent in New York City, Central Park East I became a beacon of progressive, child-centered practice.
The school embodies Meier’s vision. “Democracy demands we acknowledge everyone’s inalienable capacity to be an inventor, dreamer, and theorist—to count in the larger scheme of things,” she wrote in The Power of Their Ideas. She warned us long ago about the dire consequences of ignoring this dictate. Play, described by Meier as “self-initiated cognitive activity,” is at the heart of Central Park East I’s form of progressivism.
Over the decades, CPE I, as the school is known, became a haven for early childhood educators, a number of whom have gone on to found their own progressive public schools. But with the enactment of No Child Left Behind, the school entered turbulent waters, its leadership faltering.
Today, under standards-based accountability and assessment, the kind of public education that Meier championed in New York City and Boston’s Mission Hill School, is under siege. CPE I has morphed into a battleground for democracy, pitting parents and teachers against Monika Garg, a principal whose curriculum vitae does not include early childhood education, much less pedagogy driven by progressive philosophy.
Garg assumed her position last summer as interim acting principal. The CPE I School Leadership Team, accustomed to collaborative decision making, had no input in this decision. She had previously worked at Pan American International High School in Corona, Queens, under Minerva Zanca, the subject of a federal suit against the New York City Department of Education. Among the complaints was race-based harassment of black teachers.
Upon her arrival, Garg promptly hired four teachers—a sizable number for the school’s small staff—all of whom had limited experience with progressive practice. Professional development to get them up the learning curve was not forthcoming. By last fall, anxiety among CPE I’s parents and teachers was mounting. A request for a town hall meeting with Garg and Estrella went unheeded.
Garg rejected parents’ request to consider a diversity initiative program Deborah Meier’s Stand on Central Park East I: A Crucible for Progressive Education | ECE PolicyWorks: