Andrejko Tosses Former Buddy Serge Under the Bus

May 7, 2012

Demotions are not uncommon in the business world, but are rarer in unionized education. They can be embarrassing, even traumatic. But how would you feel if you were not only demoted, but it was done publicly in your community, and you were forced to write, and disseminate, your own professional obituary?

And how hard is it to write when you are under a bus?

Ask soon-to-be-former QCHS principal Anita Serge. Last week, the following email arrived in district family inboxes:

A message from QUAKERTOWN COMM SR HIGH SCHOOL.

Good Afternoon Students and Parents, This is Anita Serge, principal of the senior high school. For the past 6 years I have had the pleasure of working with an incredible group of students and teachers. During that time, we not only increased opportunities for our students, but more importantly we sent a clear message that all of our students have the right to grow academically and emotionally. I now have the opportunity to work with yet another incredible group of students and staff in our District. I will become the principal of Quakertown Elementary School at the end of this school year. It goes without saying that I am looking forward to this new challenge, but will miss the daily life of the high school as well. Please understand that I will continue in my present role until after graduation so please feel free to contact me with your questions. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of such a wonderful experience.

Serge's letter was as revealing for what it didn't say as for what it did. Does anyone really believe that she is "looking forward to this new challenge"? She speaks of "increased opportunities" and a "clear message" about "the right to grow academically and emotionally" (whatever that means). But not a word about achievement, success, or progress. That is undoubtedly because her high school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress last year, and the test scores have been terrible. Class scheduling, and the handling of AP courses, have upset many students and families. The woman was simply in over her head. She is a nice lady who was set up for failure, and then thrown under the bus.

As poor a principal as Serge has been, she deserved better. She had been hand-picked for the position by buddy Superintendent Lisa Andrejko. In fact, that friendship was Serge's main asset, since she lacked the preferred credentials for such responsibility, notably a doctorate. And when even Dr A could no longer hide her deficiencies, she was jettisoned without so much as a public thank you. No personal announcement by Andrejko praising her time and devotion. No school assembly honoring her commitment to her students. Just her own short email, announcing that she was being shuffled off to relative obscurity in the worst-performing school in the district, where it will barely be noticed if she is, again, over her head.

You might think that a major personnel move like this, which raises more red flags than a bullfighters convention, requires school board approval. But not here. After all, this is the Quite Commonly Secret District. The community is expected to pay ever-increasing taxes, endure fad educational programs, and suffer poor test scores every year...but apparently not receive explanations of controversial decisions that clearly scream out "big problems here."

Not only was the board not consulted, the directors weren't even given an explanation, despite the fact that they are the ones elected to represent the best interests of the community, and ultimately held responsible for district success or failure.

Director Paul Stepanoff was angry at the administration's stonewalling. "My message to the board was that this is clearly not a voluntary move. With that said, why, if Serge is not good enough to fill one assignment, are we supposed to automatically accept that she is good enough for a nearly identical assignment? If Serge was simply resigning, the board might not demand to know why, unless it was criminal. However, if she is bad enough to be forcefully removed from one position, but then is being put into another, almost equally important position, we need to be comfortable in knowing that this is the best decision for our school district, and we deserve to know what happened to force this move. With the information we have - which is exactly NOTHING - I'm not comfortable with her in her new position. In fact, I'm even less comfortable with her in this role than when she was in her former role."

Stepanoff has already made an email request to Andrejko, and will follow it up at the next board meeting on May 10. "We will demand an explanation - whether in the public, or executive, session. There is no way I will allow her to be the principal of an elementary school with impressionable young minds without knowing that whatever happened at the high school will not happen in her new position."

Serge is just the latest in a line of highly-placed QCSD educators who have fallen from grace here, most not so gracefully...

Former Superintendent Jim Scanlon jumped before he was pushed in 2006, after battling the board over the district's skyrocketing budget and taxes, and worries about program cuts. Head of Guidance Mary Bogle quit in a huff in 2007, after publicly criticizing the committee that recommended the end of Integrated Math in QCSD. Director of Curriculum Bridget O'Connell also abandoned ship in 2007, taking to Palisades her PhD that QCSD taxpayers had just financed. Strayer Principal Richard Zinck "resigned" in March, 2008, following revelations that he was having an extra-marital affair with a teacher. She also was forced out.

Special Education Administrator Doris Martin bolted for Cheltenham in 2008, saying that she "didn't feel her contributions were valued here". Former QCHS Principal Mario Galante was removed in an administration shakeup, reassigned to something titled Director of Special Services, and finally sent on his way in 2009, amidst questions of the necessity of his new role. Controversial Business Manager Sylvia Lenz, who was greatly responsible for the district's budget deficits, retired in 2010, after former board president Kathy Mosley unsuccessfully tried to get the board to raise Lenz's final salary, giving her a heftier retirement check.