There was an extra buzz amongst the audience at the Community Education Council meeting Thursday at the Juan Morel Campos School as the Council prepared to introduce former PS 34 principal Alicja Winnicki as the new superintendent for School District 14.
Friends, family, and colleagues were on hand to congratulate Winnicki on her appointment, along with several local officials and a host of supportive parents and students from PS 34. When Terry Byam, the executive director of the Office of the Senior Supervising Superintendent, introduced Winnicki, she was greeted with raucous applause and a standing ovation. A group of teachers and students held up signs reading “PS 34 congratulates Ms. Winnicki” and others presented her with bouquets of flowers.
“CEC members are not strangers to me,” said Winnicki addressing the crowd. “I feel this already is and will become my home. It is time for us to come together as parents, teachers, principals, and assistant principals. I am so glad you can be here for this meeting.”
Winnicki was followed by brief appearances from Evelyn Cruz, the community coordinator for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’s Brooklyn office, as well as Antonio Reynoso, chief of staff for Councilmember Diana Reyna, and Councilmember Steven Levin.
“34 has such a wonderful feeling to it,” said one official. “It’s a school that has been strengthened by the community, and it strengthens the community in turn, and serves our kids so well, and that’s really a testament to Ms. Winnicki’s leadership and her ability to rally the troops and to be a great teacher and great principal.”
Winnicki has worked in District 14 for over twenty years both as a teacher and administrator. She replaces the popular Fred Rubino, who died suddenly this past April, shortly after he was named the new superintendent. While there was some lingering sadness over Rubino’s passing at the meeting—Winnicki recognized his work in her speech—the adulation she was showered with was the highlight of the evening.
“She’s absolutely a perfect choice,” said Brooke Parker, the parent of a child at PS 84, another district school. “Everybody’s heartbroken about Fred Rubino, everybody. But she makes total and complete sense, she’s a real school leader, she believes in neighborhood schools.”
It is not a transition without its snags. In her previous position, Winnicki was an outspoken opponent of charter schools. Now as Superintendent, it is widely believed that she will have to recuse herself from that debate.
However, Tesa Wilson, the president of the Community Education Council and a vocal charter school critic, said she is not worried about losing an ally in the ongoing battle to preserve public education.
“Actually, I see this as a big plus. Ms. Winnicki is really talking about bringing in parents in a way that we have not had in the past,” said Wilson. “I don’t believe that she’ll be one of those talking heads that just tweets stuff. She’s levelheaded enough to get things done.”
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