Oddo removes appointee from education panel after gifted program testing vote

STATEN ISLAND, NY – Borough President James Oddo removed his appointee from a New York City education panel after rejecting a contract extension for the administration of the controversial Gifted exam & Talented earlier his week.

Peter Calandrella, whom Oddo appointed in 2016, voted against extending the contract with Pearson Education at a Wednesday meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP).

The panel ultimately rejected the contract extension with the company that offers the gifted and talented entrance exams – for around $ 1.7 million.

Oddo said he made the decision to fire Calandrella – effective February 9 – not because of the substance of the vote, but because it went against what he, his staff and Calandrella had agreed to the night before.

“I understand that this is a complicated issue and that good and well-meaning people see the different sides of this complex issue differently,” he said in a statement released by Borough Hall. “So basically it’s not a question of whether it was a correct or incorrect vote, but rather a question of how he handled the actual voting decision. The bottom line is that he should not have taken such a decision unilaterally.

The decision of the panel, composed mostly of people appointed by the mayor, surprised many after Mayor Bill de Blasio said the test would continue for another year. It is not known how the test will unfold.

A message left with a number listed for Calandrella was not returned at time of publication, but it was not without supporters.

Leonie Haimson, an advocate for the smaller classes, publicly shared a letter from 12 other PEP members asking Oddo to reconsider his decision.

They wrote in the letter that the vote rejecting the exam administration contract for K-3 classes had little to do with the Gifted and Talented program itself – the group noted that the majority of the panel support the program – but instead he had to deal with the pandemic.

“The claim largely centered on the risks associated with administering such a test in the midst of a global pandemic, as well as concerns about fairness and the impact it could have on heavily affected communities. by COVID-19, like Staten Island, ”the group wrote.

“While there was a broader discussion of whether the (gifted and talented) programs in (New York) have served all (New York) families well during this meeting, it is imperative to clearly understand that the vote was not on this issue. “

De Blasio and Chancellor of Schools Richard Carranza have criticized the use of the exam to determine admissions to the program, especially for its younger students.

The mayor said earlier this month that the high-stakes exam will end after this year, as parents have already started preparing their children for the exam this spring.

It was not immediately clear who would replace Calandrella on the panel, and the New York City Department of Education did not return a request for comment at the time of publication.

The voting members of the PEP are informed of one person appointed by each district president, and eight by the mayor, according to the PEP statutes. The Chancellor and two student advisory members are non-voting members. All members sit at the discretion of the person who appointed them, according to the statutes.

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