The city appointed a teacher well-versed in Arabic to lead its first Arabic language and culture academy on Tuesday, filling a void in the school’s leadership left by the forced resignation of the school’s founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, in August.
Holly Reichert, a lifelong student of the Arabic language long-time educator, will replace interim principal Danielle Salzberg, who was hastily chosen to serve as Almontaser’s temporary replacement despite her inability to speak Arabic.
In contrast, Reichert, 42 has a working knowledge of both modern Arabic and Egyptian colloquial Arabic, having worked extensively in the Middle East. Most recently, she worked for the city, giving literacy support to 17 teachers at 11 schools.
On Tuesday, Reichert demonstrated a different kind of literacy — the political kind. Despite a slew of questions about the Department of Education’s handling of the Academy and its treatment of Almontaser, Reichert would only offer apolitical comments about the school’s city- and state-approved curriculum, prompting Borough President Markowitz to later remark, “She’s a smooth cookie.”
Reichert did say that the school’s political baggage didn’t deter her from applying for the job.
“My life has been all about challenges,” said Reichert. “I didn’t hesitate at all.”
“Things that happened before my appointment … I had no part of, so I won’t comment on them,” she added.
Indeed, controversy swirled around the Khalil Gibran International Academy since it was unveiled in February, first over where the school would be sited, but then over Almontaser herself.
In August, she defended an “Intifada NYC” girls T-shirt, saying that that the word “intifada” literally meant “shaking off” and explaining that the shirt was about female empowerment.
The damaging battle meant that the city’s selection of a permanent replacement would be a fraught decision. Rosemary Stuart, the superintendant for the district that encompasses the Boerum Hill school, said she wanted someone with experience working with middle schoolers, and with the Arabic language and culture.
Reichert’s appointment met with the approval of Lena Alhusseini, the executive director of the Arab American Family Support Center, who called Reichert “the role model for what we want.”
But Almontaser supporters remained firm that the Yemeni-born educator should have her job back — though the Department of Education refused to consider her when she reapplied.
“The [city] may point to all the qualifications of the new principal,” said Carol Horowitz, also of Brooklyn for Peace. “What the [city] has failed to address is that the new principal’s qualifications fall dramatically short of Ms. Almontaser’s qualifications.”
In all, there were 25 applicants for the job, an Education spokeswoman said.
Holly Reichert has been chosen to run the controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city’s first Arabic language and culture school. Here’s the dope on the new teech-in-charge.
Name: Holly Reichert
Last job: Teacher mentor for the Department of Education. Supported the efforts of more than 17 teachers in elementary, middle and high school.
Qualifications: Headed the English Department of a dual-language school in Bahrain; worked in Egypt and Syria; earned two masters degrees in education and a third in teaching English as a foreign language from the American University in Cairo.
Fun fact: Reichert worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen from 1991–1992!