A few years ago, the principal of Choir Academy of Harlem was credited with saving the school. Then, last year, she was suddenly fired, and now, the school is facing closure again. In part 1 of a two-part story, education reporter Lindsey Christ, took a closer look at how she entered the system.
A few months before A. Ellen Parris became principal of Harlem's Choir Academy, Andrea E. Parris was told she was being demoted from her job as an assistant principal in Baltimore.
It was August 2007, and she was frustrated that nobody in Baltimore had investigated her claims of discrimination at her school. She sent an email, copying the NAACP and the governor of Maryland.
The message ended up with the police. It said, in part:
"It makes you wonder why people go into places of employment and kill people. What causes them to snap! It’s things like this! Employment harassment is damaging, but the results to those who caused it can be devastating. I hope I never snap."
She wasn't arrested, but Baltimore school officials declared her unfit to be an assistant principal, saying the email "reflected extremely poor judgment, [and was] unprofessional, negative and damaging to the school system."
Parris quit three days before she was officially demoted back to being a teacher. Four months later, she was hired as principal of Choir Academy in New York, a sixth through 12th-grade school. She was now going by her middle name, Ellen.
NY1 asked her if New York officials knew about the Baltimore incident when they hired her.
"I don't know if they knew about that before I came here," she said.
The city said it conducts background checks on all potential principals, but wouldn't comment specifically on Parris's case, since she's now suing the DOE for what she says is retaliation against her for raising issues about mold at her school.
In recent years, the city has had several educators removed and arrested after they made what were seen as veiled threats of violence.
In her 2007 email, Parris wrote that it was "enormous stress and frustration" that made her worry about snapping. Four years later, in a long letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, she said she was dealing with "stress and frustration" at Choir Academy. Just as in Baltimore, she said she was under attack by school officials.
She wrote: "I will not stand to be undermined or 'creatively' retaliated against."
A few months later, the city fired her.
Tune in to NY1 Friday at 8 p.m. for Part 2 of the story, which looks at why Parris was fired and what's happened since then.