Blast from the past: Recchia, a Dewey graduate, says his alma mater and its principal must go

Councilman Dominic Recchia (D–Coney Island) is backing a city plan to restructure his alma mater, John Dewey High School.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Talk about a blast from the past!

John Dewey High School alum and Councilman Domenic Recchia wants the city to gut his struggling Gravesend alma mater by axing half of its staff and cutting off the school’s head, longtime Principal Barry Fried — the man the lawmaker says killed the Avenue X school’s alumni association.

Recchia — who graduated in 1977 — says Fried is responsible for Dewey’s decline because he has been unwilling to reign in unruly students.

“Principal Fried sits in his office all day and can’t control the students,” Recchia (D–Coney Island) said during a recent Community Board 13 meeting at Coney Island Hospital. “This principal should have been gone years ago. The school could prosper but it needs new leadership.”

Recchia also blasted Fried for shutting down the school’s alumni association after members began complaining about the school’s poor performance.

“No principal who freezes out his alumni association deserves to be a principal,” Recchia said.

Yet Fried says Recchia is completely off base: graduation rates at John Dewey High School have increased by 10 percent since 2009 and the school just received an influx of sports teams — examples that it is improving.

Recchia’s comments came as a complete surprise, Fried said.

“I thought Dominic and I had a good working relationship,” he said. “I’m hurt by this. The school has had its ups and downs but I’m proud of the strides we’ve made.”

School staffers want to give Recchia an F for wanting to unload Fried.

“Dewey has a lot of good things going on, but I’m worried for the staff and I’m worried for the students,” said a longtime worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Dewey, which was formed in the 1960s as “The New School” after a group of high school reformers pushed for a new education model, is on the state’s list of chronically low-achieving schools and has received Cs on its last three city-issued report cards.

The Department of Education wants to shut Dewey down and resurrect it as a “turnaround school” — putting it in a program where federal money is used to stabilize a school, but only after the principal and 50 percent of the school’s staff are given their walking papers. Sheepshead Bay High School and William E. Grady High School are also being considered for the program.

The state’s Panel for Education Policy will vote on the Department of Education’s plans for Dewey this spring.

According to Department of Education spokesman Frank Thomas, Dewey — whose other famous alums include Spike Lee, actor Geoffrey Owens, and scientist Robert Sapolsky — can only benefit from the overhaul.

“This is an opportunity to assess and keep what is working, and also bring in a new wave of talent,” he said.

But Fried won’t benefit at all: if he’s booted from Dewey, his days with the Department of Education could be numbered, explained Thomas, who said that it was unclear if principals removed by the turnaround program would be assigned to other public schools.

“Those decisions will be made on a case by case basis,” Thomas said.

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