May 16, 2022 By Christian Murray
The Department of Education is conducting a search for its school superintendents across the city and Dr. Philip Composto, the current superintendent of District 30, learned last week that he was not worthy enough to be part of the final interview process to retain his job.
The news that the Department of Education had told Composto that his last day as superintendent would be June 30—without providing him with an explanation—stunned elected officials, parents, and local school leaders. They said they were blindsided by the DOE’s decision and felt that they should have been consulted before the DOE took such a big step.
Since the news broke Thursday, a petition calling for Composto to keep his position has generated 3,000 signatures, a Zoom call drew 500 participants calling for his reinstatement, and on Friday there was a rally outside Van Alst Playground in Astoria condemning the DOE for not rehiring him.
The rally included several elected officials who represent areas that are part of School District 30 as well as school and parent leaders. Most are calling for him to be reinstated to the position.
Some parents in the district have expressed their support in the DOE’s decision to replace Composto.
Composto’s role is to oversee the elementary and middle schools in the district, which covers Astoria, Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of Woodside.
The DOE is currently looking to fill all 45 superintendent spots across the school system. It isn’t clear how many existing superintendents have reapplied or are in the running to be rehired.
Composto applied but did not make it beyond the first round. An explanation for why he was rejected has not been provided.
The rally Friday was organized by State Sen. Mike Gianaris, with Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani, Cathy Nolan and Brian Barnwell in attendance. Council Members Julie Won and Tiffany Cabán were also there and spoke.
“Dr. Composto being dismissed without explanation is unacceptable to the neighborhoods he faithfully served,” Gianaris said. “I am calling on the mayor and chancellor to reverse this bad decision, which completely ignored the wishes of the community most affected by it.”
Composto, who has been the superintendent of District 30 for 14 years, had a contract to work as superintendent until the end of June. His replacement is still being determined. The public, however, will play a role in who is selected from the two or three finalists who have yet to be named.
“They’re coming in…not giving us a reason for their decisions and taking someone out of the process who has tremendous support,” Gianaris said at the rally. “So we are asking the city to reconsider… and to at least allow Dr Composto to be a participant in the interview process going forward.”
Gianaris said it was wrong for the city to replace him—given the universal support for him, let alone deny Composto the chance to even interview for his job.
Mamdani said that parents, teachers and students across the district speak highly of Composto and said he had served the district well throughout the pandemic. “And yet Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks’ response to that has been to summarily inform him that his application to continue leading our district was not event worthy of consideration. Not only do I and countless other Astorians vehemently oppose this decision, but we also find the manner in which it was done to be truly disrespectful.”
Mamdani said that he learned that Composto was being ousted from the job via twitter.
“I found out about this decision by opening up twitter and seeing a concerned parent tagging me saying that they had heard a rumor [that Dr. Composto was being let go]. The next morning I went to visit a school where a principal told me that they has just spoken to Dr. Composto [and he was not being rehired].”
Mamdani said that the whole process was offensive. “When this mayor came into office, when we had a new chancellor appointed, we were told that the days of tuning on the TV and finding out about the news and the policy of the school system were over.”
Cabán also chided the city administration for the way in which it has handled Composto.
“The thing that united almost all of us was a commitment to accountability and transparency,” Caban said. She said that the decision to exclude Composto from the running without consulting the local parents was wrong and also called for his reinstatement.
Cabán noted that Composto has the support from “every corner of this district and…I stand with them in demanding that Dr. Composto be allowed to continuing serving as our superintendent and urge the DOE to reconsider their hasty decision.”
Barnwell was blunt in his assessment. “I’m baffled. I can’t believe this, this is unacceptable. And the fact that he can’t even be in the process [for his job] is an absolute joke.” He said the mayor and DOE owe the public an explanation.
Longtime Assemblymember Cathy Nolan had high praise for Composto and said he should stay. “He has always worked tirelessly to connect with and uplift students, teachers, and school administrators and has created an environment of engagement that centers on dignity and respect.”
Julie Won said that “massive decisions” such as excluding Composto should not take place behind closed doors and should be made with the input from parents and local leaders.
“The parents of school district 30 deserve to have a voice.” Won said. “Parents are integral in deciding what type of leadership will bring the best educational experiences for their children.”
Meanwhile, Deborah Alexander, a member of the Community Education Council for District 30, said “the entire District 30 community is reeling from the shrouded, mysterious and nonsensical decision to not move Dr. Composto forward in the hiring process—despite him having the overwhelming support in our community. The DOE did not consult anyone in this decision.”
The DOE issued a statement saying that it is the process of creating a new leadership team to oversee the city’s school districts.
“45 superintendents will lead our schools this fall with significantly expanded responsibilities and accountability – tasked with improving academic achievement, real family and community engagement, and providing absolutely critical supports to schools,” the DOE said in a statement last week.
“As part of the first stage in this process, leadership put 130 potential candidates through a rigorous interview process and advanced the two or three best candidates for each district that fit this reimagined role. We are proud that we are putting the strongest candidates in front of parents and community members at public town halls and will receive their input on the final selection decisions.”
But local parents remain stunned that Composto was not even a finalist.
Kelly Craig, D30 CEC Council Member and PS/IS 78Q PTA President said, “We demand the immediate reinstatement of Dr Composto to the list of finalists for the D30 Superintendent position. Dr Composto has selflessly led this district to being one of the best and most successful in NYC. He’s a much beloved leader, advocate and inspiration of childhood education in Queens.”