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Battered principal of beleaguered Banana Kelly HS steps down

A principal chosen to lead improvement at Banana Kelly High School has resigned, months after being shot by a BB gun outside the school.

Antonio Arocho stepped down this week, adding a second abrupt leadership change to Banana Kelly’s recent history of dramatic ups and downs. He is now working as an assistant principal at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in East Harlem.

While the move represents a demotion, Arocho’s resignation was voluntary, according to Department of Education spokewoman Connie Pankratz, who said the decision to leave was motivated by “personal reasons.”

Earlier this fall, Arocho had been shot with a BB pellet one morning before school, DNAInfo reported in October. A student had also doused him and more than a dozen classmates with pepper-spray in December 2011.

The experiences had Arocho wearied and, according to some, considering moving on, according to DNAInfo’s report. “I’m here today. I was here last week. I hope to be here tomorrow,” Arocho told the news organization in October.

Arocho has been replaced by Charlette Pope, who was an assistant principal of the Holcombe Rucker School of Community Research, a small high school that shares Banana Kelly’s building. Pankratz said Pope oversaw safety and security at the school and helped institute a system for observing teachers.

“Pope … has assisted teachers in setting professional goals by organizing, preparing and delivering professional development aligned to their needs,” Pankratz said.

Arocho came to the school in 2011 after its longtime principal, Joshua Laub, resigned abruptly to protest the Department of Education’s strategies for improving high-need schools. Laub was also likely to be replaced because the city was at the time planning to “transform” the school according to a federally prescribed school overhaul process that required leadership change in most cases. When the city announced last January that it would use the “turnaround” process at the school instead, it opted to keep Arocho on to lead the overhaul.

Turnaround plans at Banana Kelly and two dozen other schools were ultimately reversed because the city lost a lawsuit with the teachers and principals unions over them. But in the meantime many teachers left Banana Kelly for jobs in other schools.