New principal at Fort Hamilton High School

Jo Ann Chester, former principal of Fort Hamilton High School, has retired after 42 years of working in the city school system.

She will be replaced by Interim Acting Principal Kaye Houlihan, appointed by the Department of Education High School Superintendent Karen Watts. Houlihan comes from a specialized art background and was assistant principal at LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts and Edward R. Murrow High School. Her most recent stint was as principal of the New Heights Academy Charter School, located in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan. She will begin her new role on Thursday, September 27.

Chester, who was principal at FHHS for 12 years, notified The Home Reporter of her retirement in response to a story run in this paper last week which reported on rumors, at the time, that she would resign.

She did not elaborate on her reasons for retiring at this point, just days into the new school year, but denied allegations that have been mooted about in recent weeks that she had hired substitute teachers for extended periods of time, but instead of paying them the proper full-time salary for their lengthened hours, had kept them on a substitute teacher payroll.

“While principals certainly do have greater budgetary control then they did under prior administrations, among the many aspects of budget that we do not control is payroll and salary,” she said in her email. “These are contractually set and, as such, the system in place has redundancies to correct the problems that have arisen. Whether such failsafe mechanisms operate efficiently and correctly is of a different matter and inquiry level.”

Chester also dismissed a report that the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigation had looked into Fort Hamilton’s Regent’s exam scores in February.

“The findings were unsubstantiated. Simply put, though, my students do not cheat and my professional faculty grade with expertise and fairness, following the scoring protocols that are established by the city and state,” Chester contended, adding that her good relationship with students was a major factor in her remaining on the job after she was eligible for retirement.

While former students contacted by this paper remember Chester fondly, as reported in last week’s edition, not everyone shares those views. Among those is Thomas Greene, a former assistant principal at FHHS, who said that his experiences with Chester were “unpleasant.”

Greene, who led an initiative to construct the school’s indoor swimming pool in 1989, was involved in an altercation with two other teachers back in 2002 in which he was assaulted by one of them when he attempted to enter the pool area.

According to Greene, in the wake of the incident, Chester had him arrested but charges against him were dropped while the individual who assaulted him was convicted of the assault a few months later. And, in fact, there were reports at the time of ongoing arguments between the administration and Greene, with hundreds of people showing support for Greene following his arrest and criticizing the school administration for its treatment of him.

“I still stayed at the school but it was difficult for me to conduct my job very well,” said Greene, who now teaches at Kingsborough Community College since leaving the Shore Road school in 2005.

Greene said that the teacher morale at the school has been “very, very low and the climate has been set in the last 10 years.”

Greene also recalled Chester ending an early bird swim program for the school that had been started by previous principal Alice Farkouh. “No reason was given [and ] teachers complained,” said Greene. “The PTA and the teacher’s union were of no help. The program didn’t cost the school any money because two swim teachers volunteered their time to cover the pool.”

Greene said that with the incoming principal, he wants to try to bring the program back. “Hopefully, the old and new administrative staff in the school will honor the commitment mandated by the Board of Education Superintendent Noel Kriftcher in1989 during pool constructionwhen he said‘pool time must be provided tostaffto help relieve stresson the job,’” he said.

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