Education and Community

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by  Stanley Kinard
For the past week The Daily News has reported on unrest between teachers and the administration at Brooklyn Technical High School. The principal of Brooklyn Tech is Dr. Lee McCaskill, a black man, who for 13 years has led this elite school with distinction. Brooklyn Technical High School is one of 3 New York City’s specialized high schools. It is larger than both Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science with a population of four thousand five hundred students. While only eighteen percent of Brooklyn Tech’s population is black, there are more black students there, than at Bronx Science or Stuyvesant. Last year, Brooklyn Technical High School turned out the highest number of black students passing the Advance Placement Biology and Calculus exams in the nation. With Dr. McCaskill at its helm, the school has maintained it’s standing as an elite school with thousands of applicants being turned away each year.
Despite Dr. McCaskill’s strong leadership and accomplishments, there have been recent complaints about his ability to run Brooklyn Tech. The complaints against Dr. McCaskill center around three things: his alleged failure to reprimand his assistant principal for her treatment of teachers, the closing of the student newspaper and his failure to get the school radio station up and running. Dr. McCaskill has also been criticized for not utilizing computers in his school.
As a result of these complaints, The United Federation of Teachers recently held a demonstration at the school on Open School Night. It was a selfish, divisive, and irresponsible demonstration to do on a night dedicated to parent/teacher conferences, fortunately only a handful of teachers actually showed up. The teachers have used their newspaper, Pens and Letters, to question Dr. McCaskill’s qualifications to lead Brooklyn Tech. They have referred to him as Mbutu, the former corrupt and brutal president of Zaire, and have accused the Muslim assistant principal of committing academic terrorism.  This use of code words and references trigger thoughts of racism and tend to polarize people.  It is particularly irresponsible when coming from educators. Despite Dr. McCaskill’s qualifications as a licensed math teacher with a Doctorate in education, some teachers have even commented that he would be more suited to run a Music High School.
In the midst of this controversy, Dr. McCaskill has enjoyed support from various constituencies. Principal Emeritus Frank Mickens states; “Dr. Lee McCaskill is a superior educator for all kids. If they can attack his intellect, work ethic, and accomplishments then every Black and Latino educator should watch his or her back.” The Department of Education has also stood firmly behind Dr. McCaskill and his leadership of Brooklyn Tech.
This recent attack on Dr. McCaskill is part of an ongoing witch-hunt to discredit him and force him to step down. He has been subjected to personal attacks and unprecedented pressures as an educator. Furthermore, the racial overtones involved in this controversy cannot be ignored. We as a community cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and be silent in the face of such behavior from educators at Brooklyn Tech.
While teachers legitmate concerns should be addressed, the nature of the attacks against Dr. McCaskill, read as personal dislikes mixed with issues of race more so than a commentary on his competency.
There is no doubt in my mind that some of the issues that have been raised by the faculty can be resolved in a rational manner by the Tech community and the Department of Education. I support a student newspaper, and total utilization of all the computers, and would love to see the NYSE radio station operable. However, given the viciousness and racial undertones of the attacks upon Dr. McCaskill and his staff, a Support Committee comprised of Black educators, ministers, parents, alumni, and elected officials should be formed to support Dr. McCaskill. It may be Halloween but Dr. Lee McCaskill will not be subjected to a witch-hunt.