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Parents upset after Lower East Side charter fires its principal

Fresh off a year-long tumultuous space fight, a Manhattan charter school is now facing parent protests over its decision to fire its principal mid-year.

Parents at Girls Prep Charter Middle School found out late last week that the school’s board had fired Kimberly Morcate, who began as the middle school’s first principal at the start of last school year. A group of parents who support Morcate and who are upset that the school did not solicit feedback before deciding to let her go have started an online petition urging the school to reinstate her.

“I placed my daughter in Girls Prep Charter School because we were told we had a voice in the governance of the school,” the petition reads. “The loss of an amazing principal without so much as an explanation to the students, parents, or staff shows extreme lack of respect for us.”

Since the petition was launched yesterday, nearly 30 parents have signed their names to it. The middle school currently enrolls around 125 students in fifth and sixth grades.

Morcate saw the school through a turbulent first year marked by a heated fight for space in a Lower East Side school building, which mobilized some of the same parents who are now protesting Morcate’s dismissal. After a protracted public fight, the city granted the school space, but State Education Commissioner David Steiner overturned the decision late in the summer. The school was forced to delay the start of its school year before eventually finding private temporary space.

This year the school found itself in political crosshairs again, after the city proposed siting the middle school in space being vacated by Ross Global Academy Charter School, which the city is closing at the end of this year. Ross has accused the city of shutting it down and giving Girls Prep its space as a political favor to well-connected backers of Girls Prep.

Girls Prep was also dealt a blow in the fall when the city ranked the school in the lowest 15 percent of schools in its annual progress reports. Critics of charter schools argued that the city should not support the growth of a school that posted poor academic performance.

The city has proposed letting both Girls Prep’s middle school and elementary school expand in city building space next year. Aside from the protests from Ross, the proposals — which will be voted on by the citywide in the coming months — have not generated the same outcry as last year, and the neighborhood’s parent council leader has endorsed the plans.

Ian Rowe, the chief executive of Girls Prep’s parent network Public Prep, said that he was not concerned that a mid-year leadership change at the school would foster instability at the school, as parents worried in the petition. The school’s board is meeting with parents tomorrow to discuss the changes.

“We’re making this decision because we want to deliver on the commitment that we’ve made to provide their daughters with an excellent education,” Rowe said.

In addition to raising concerns about parent involvement, the petition criticizes the school for allowing Rowe to take the reins of the school. Rowe has two years of teaching experience but no experience or credentials as a school leader.

Rowe said that he would lead the school jointly for the rest of the academic year with Rebekah Marler, the former principal of East Harlem’s P.S. 50 who has also been working as a consultant with Public Prep.

UPDATE: This post originally quoted a signatory to the position and mistakenly identified her as a parent; it has been updated to correct the error.

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