A racially-charged revolt has erupted at a high-performing Upper West Side public school, with embattled Principal Claire Lowenstein hit with her second no-confidence vote in just two years.
Of a total 154 staffers and parents polled last week, 132 — about 86 percent — voted no confidence in Lowenstein’s leadership of PS 333 on West 94th Street, according to teachers who conducted the query. Ballots were cast by 85 parents, but some voted more than once — they were allowed one vote for each child they have in the school.
Among various complaints, the survey alleges that Lowenstein has hired too many white teachers and not enough faculty of color in a “years-long campaign of discriminatory hiring practices.”
The racial divide in staffing in one of the city’s most liberal neighborhoods “is the root cause of a lot of tensions,” say teachers who organized the vote in hopes the DOE will remove her.
“Principal Claire Lowenstein has lost the support and respect of parents, staff and the larger PS 333 community. She has failed to put the needs of the children first, and her divisive leadership has hurt students and faculty alike,” said teacher Raphael Tomkin, the school’s chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers.
Several parents who spoke to The Post said the allegations don’t surprise them. They described Lowenstein, who has led the school the past eight years, as “a petty tyrant,” “combative” and “confrontational.” They fear she is driving good teachers away.
“If 80 percent of the teachers are frustrated and want to leave this school because of the principal, that’s all I need to know,” said Brian Dunn, who has two daughters at PS 333. “Job one is to keep the best teachers here.”
Adam Kantor, whose 4th-grader attends PS 333, agreed: “I like the teachers and my daughter seems to enjoy the school. I just question an operation that allows someone with this many issues to stay in a leadership position. At some point, you’ve got to say enough is enough.”
Lowenstein did not respond to requests for comment, but Craig DiFolco, a spokesman for the principals’ union, blasted the unofficial no-confidence tally.
“Principal Lowenstein is a dedicated, highly effective principal of a high performing school, and this survey has no merit,” DiFolco said in a statement. “The individuals who orchestrated this attack cherry-picked a small portion of the community, led them to desired outcomes by misrepresenting facts, and allowed them to vote multiple times to further an inaccurate narrative. The DOE should investigate the organizers for misconduct.”
The survey also cites allegations that Lowenstein scolded students who didn’t answer questions the way she wanted, and assigned a male special-ed paraprofessional to duties that included “toileting” and “changing the under-clothing” of a young female student. She blamed a staff shortage, the document states.
The DOE said the accusations on the failure to assign a permanent female aide for the student are being investigated, saying “Our most vulnerable students deserve the highest degree of care.”
In the first vote of no confidence conducted by faculty members in June 2019, the survey cited “explicit bias against students and staff.” Lowenstein told a black student, “Don’t bring your street problems into my school,” the survey alleged. She also allegedly failed to support an openly gay teacher being harassed by older kids, the charges stated.
Enrollment at the K-8 school has dropped nearly 24 percent from 760 students in 2014-15, Lowenstein’s first full year as principal, to the current 579. DiFolco called the drop “on par with citywide declines.”
The student body is 52 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent black and 8 percent Asian, according to DOE data.
Most of the teachers (40 of 47, or 85 percent) are white. Of seven new teachers hired for fall, one is Hispanic, one Asian, and the rest white. Lowenstein reviewed the applications of a number of black male teachers provided by the non-profit group, NYC Men Teach. In the DOE, principals have the final say in hiring decisions.
“There is definitely a lack of representation that has contributed to a climate where families of color have felt uncomfortable or unwelcome,” said Jonathan Goldman, who has two kids at the school.
In contrast, all but one of some 30 lower-paid aides are black, Hispanic and other non-whites.
“Many paraprofessionals express to me they feel as though they are constantly being treated like ‘the help’ in a nearly all-white school,” a PS 333 teacher said.
But a black paraprofessional at PS 333 told The Post that nearly all classroom aides citywide are people of color. “If you’re going to hire a paraprofessional, that’s who you’re going to get,” the aide said.
“A lot of paras feel like they’re ‘the help.’ There are times I’ve felt that way,” the aide agreed, but added that it’s largely because they work under teachers who run the classrooms.
“As far as discrimination is concerned, I completely disagree.”
Despite the tumult, the DOE said it will continue to support Lowenstein and the school with extra attention, and investigate allegations
“All school communities deserve a culture that is supportive, trusting and open,” spokesman Nathaniel Styer said in response to questions “Along with intensive help from the district, we are putting in place interventions that work for the parents, staff and principal. We will continue our work with the PS 333 community to ensure all voices are heard and concerns are addressed.”