While it was reported that Calise was asked to resign in early 2010 after refuting multiple sexually charged advances by the 17-year Glendale principal, Lombardi said the former teacher was being let go for other “behavior” related reasons.
“Rather than pursuing a discontinuance, we worked out a resignation based on performance and other issues,” Lombardi said of the teacher. “This case is a result of a dismissal.”
Lombardi claims he has letters from previous principals who had issues with the former teacher, something he is confident will vindicate him.
While it seems some parents were suspicious after receiving a letter from the principal in mid-January that he was retiring from the school, Lombardi says it is unrelated to the charges. Instead, he wants to focus on what he has accomplished during his tenure and pass that on to a successor.
“I didn’t want to get someone in here in June to recreate something,” Lombardi said of his decision to leave. “I wanted them to see an existing structure that hopefully they would be able to carry on some kind of legacy or ask me for support.”
There were just 440 students enrolled when Lombardi first took over at P.S. 49, located at 63-60 80th St., in 1997, and today the school has over 1,100 students, 99 employees including 84 educators on staff, a number of which say the school’s growth is thanks to his vision for professionalism and work ethic. A new extension is also expected to make more room for their growth.
Part of the success, Lombardi says, was the ability for him to create his own staff following the action he helped initiate with former School’s Chancellor Joel Klein.
Under the reform set in place back in 2007, principals were granted the freedom of routine supervision under contract with the Department of Education, holding them accountable for their actions and progress.
“There was no flexibility before,” he said.
Today the Middle Village school has a comprehensive music program, a full-time music teacher, a choral room and a music lesson partnership with weekend help from the Long Island City Academy of Music.
“We have complete transparency with the parent body, and they can come in whenever they want,” Lombardi explained of the way he runs his “bus,” as he puts it. “We’ve made a good community school.”
Art teacher Susan Bricker said Lombardi was a big part of the reason why she decided to become a teacher.
“One thing that makes this school unique is the level of professionalism of the staff,” Bricker said. “We end up having a really great team atmosphere because we’re on the same page.”
Bricker said the school is unique in that, while they have two full-time art teachers and offer lessons in art history, the art department works with other departments in the school, and vice-versa.
“We work with the teachers and we have a lot more fluidity between subjects,” she said. “For instance in social studies, they spend time analyzing artwork, and we provide examples for them.”
While numerous staffers are sad to see their long-time principal retire, Kevin McGarry, an English teacher at the school, said he is confident that the groundwork Lombardi laid out will be strong for the future of the school.
McGarry explained that with his clear focus, teachers working under Lombardi often have a hard time keeping up with the amount of planning and hard work that he asks for, something that has made the school so strong.
“You can’t get up there and wing it and that’s why he talks about planning,” McGarry said. “I know what the social studies teachers are doing and I even know what the math teachers are doing.”
According to McGarry, the level of proficiency asked of teachers can be daunting, however the strongest ultimately remain on staff and are the ones that have made the school what it is today.
“I have worked with many wonderful teachers who are burnt out,” he said. “I’ve sat with guys who are in their 30’s, who are big and physically intimidating, but they are crying inside because they just hit the wall. They are dealing with kids who are really difficult.”
Former PTA president and now P.S. 49 parent coordinator Donna Murphy has lived in close proximity to the school since her own children were young.
Now that she is a part of the team at the school, Murphy says that she too is confident their progress is because of the strict professional atmosphere laid forth by the principal.
“His vision has always been clear,” Murphy said. “His vision has always been to have a transparent school. In other words that we educate the parents, so that we could mold them into being able to come into the school and ask all the right questions.”
Only time will tell whether the legacy Lombardi leaves will be remembered for a culture of teacher harassment or the successes of P.S. 49 and its students.