At a time when everyone laments America's declining status as educator of its children -- its ranking among world nations slipping with each yearly study -- and with no solutions in sight for broken school systems all across the country, the resignation of Stuyvesant High School Principal Stanley Teitel is a dark day for all those who long for excellence in public education, and know that excellence is possible. (Disclosure: I have two daughters presently at the school.)
After 13 years leading an academic powerhouse and arguably the hottest ticket in New York City's high school lottery, Teitel, a boundlessly spry 63, resigned from Stuyvesant on Friday, and retired as an educator, purportedly for personal reasons. But anyone following the scandal that took place at the school this past June knows that the statement he posted on Stuyvesant's website, that he was seeking "time to devote my energy to my family and personal endeavors," has reasons to wonder whether he came to this decision entirely on his own.
In June, 71 students reportedly cheated on their state Regents exams by using their cell phones to pass along photos of test pages and no doubt answers to questions. Teitel acted swiftly, although perhaps not strongly enough, by stripping some of their privileges, such as leadership positions at the school and the freedom to take lunch outside of the building. As news of the scandal widened, however, Teitel decided that more severe disciplinary measures were necessary. Now some of those students will face suspension. Good riddance.
The New York Daily News has reported that the Department of Education is still conducting an investigation into Teitel's handling of the matter. The fact that this story wasn't going away, and that Teitel was now becoming part of the story, may have led the school board to pressure Teitel to resign. Yet, with school principals presiding over failing schools all over New York City, and a powerful union and cowardly state officials unwilling to close schools and fire teachers and principals, it is paradoxical, if not altogether absurd, that a man like Teitel, who has created standards for true academic excellence for thousands of New York City's best and brightest, is the one high-profile fall-guy the Department of Education saw fit to discipline in order to demonstrate that cheating is not tolerated in New York City Schools.
Although despicable, it is understandable. Stuyvesant is not one of those schools that can easily escape public scrutiny, nor generate much public sympathy. Indeed, this is not the first time Teitel had to answer for the misdeeds of a small number of his students. (Over 3,000 students attend the school.) In 2011, a rap song written and performed by several male Stuyvesant students circulated on the Internet, featuring racist, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic lyrics. No doubt a cheating scandal and a racist song are easy marks in sullying the reputation of a school far better known for sending so many of its graduates onto Ivy League colleges and careers in science, medicine, and law. This is a high school that can boast having graduated future Nobel laureates. Most public schools receive attention, if at all, for far less noble reasons: the presence of metal detectors as welcome mats, and poor graduation rates instead of diplomas and the possibilities for a future.
With its glorious state of the art building along the Hudson River, and its rigorous entrance exam that is most assuredly not minority-friendly, except for Asians and Jews, there is a fair amount of resentment by those whose children are stuck in abysmal schools with teachers who but for the grace of tenure would be in another line of work -- if not out of work, permanently. No doubt the exclusionary atmosphere of Stuyvesant empowered those who now hold it to a standard that no school of its size could possibly police. Cheating can and does take place elsewhere with great regularity, but not here -- never here, if Stuyvesant insists on holding itself out as special.
So a super school is now without its superstar principal, as if Stanley Teitel should be treated and remembered as Joe Paterno.
Ironically, the state Regents exam is nearly an afterthought at Stuyvesant where so many of its students take Advanced Placement tests and SAT II subject tests in math, science, literature, and Latin. For Teitel to have lost his job over this incident, given all the enrichment and achievement he has generated over the years, is the unkindest cut of all. And it sends a disgraceful message of what really matters to the Department of Education and our local leaders who have not insisted that Teitel is too young to retire. Our city is far too needy to accept his resignation.