Tuesday, February 4, 2014



Last Wednesday at 4 P.M. Mount Vernon Exposed had a pre-arranged appointment to tour A.B. Davis Middle School.  On Wednesday morning Mount Vernon Exposed received a complaint that sections of A.B. Davis Middle School were without no heat for over one week.  Mount Vernon Exposed was met at the Middle School by Robert Silkes, the buildings and grounds representative for Aramark, the company hired by the Mount Vernon School District to oversee the Mount Vernon City School District buildings and grounds employees and facilities. 

At the urging of Mount Vernon School Superintendent Judith Johnson and School Board Vice President Len Sarver, school board members just recently voted to extend Aramark’s contract to the end of April 2014.

Taxpayers have long criticized the Mount Vernon School District outsourcing the management of the buildings and grounds to Aramark.  Aramark has received millions of dollars in contracts from the Mount Vernon City School District. Just recently an employee of Aramark was recently indicted for stealing $35K from the district lunch program, a program designed to help poor and underprivileged students in Mount Vernon.   

Aramark also recently came under fire for not remediating asbestos at Cecil H. Parker Middle School. Judith Johnson did not implement a corrective plan of action at Cecil H. Parker until Mount Vernon Exposed broke news of the conditions at the school.  Aramark has failed to adequately maintain Mount Vernon Public School facilities.  School Board Trustee Len Sarver doesn’t help things either. Sarver is too busy doling out multi-million contracts to his buddies and blocking any and all attempts to reform educational policy in the City of Mount Vernon.  Why does Sarver continue to vote for Architectural firm D’Angelo and Fuller to receive 10% off of every construction job in the district? Why does Sarver continue to vote for D’Angelo and Fuller when he publicly disclosed that he has a personal relationship with one of the principles at D’Angelo and Fuller? Why is Sarver blocking his fellow Board members from selecting a Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds?

When Mount Vernon Exposed first arrived at A.B. Davis Middle School, Mr. Silkes was informed of the complaint received by Mount Vernon Exposed regarding lack of heat in Davis Middle School.  Mr. Silkes appeared with a dumbfounded look on his face and denied that any such condition existed at the Middle School.  Mr. Silkes then accompanied Mr. Rivers, Investigative Reporter for Mount Vernon Exposed, throughout the building and took him around to areas of the building that did in fact have heat.  The head custodian of A.B. Davis Middle School also was present during the tour of the building.   Mr. Silkes told Mr. Rivers that he takes heat complaints very seriously and would never allow such a condition to exist. 

Mount Vernon Exposed was also armed with information that the balcony in the auditorium of A.B. Davis Middle School has not been in use due to leaks from the roof.  According to sources that work at David Middle School the auditorium has not been able to be used since 2009.  Mr. Silkes informed Mount Vernon Exposed that the reason the auditorium was closed was due to damaged sustained during Hurricane Sandy.  Hurricane Sandy occurred in 2012.

After the tour Mount Vernon Exposed still felt that school district officials were not forthcoming with information and was not being truthful regarding the auditorium.  An investigation conducted by Mount Vernon Exposed found that school officials began repairing the auditorium just last week because they did not want Mount Vernon Exposed to see the deplorable condition the auditorium was in. 

Mount Vernon Exposed then reached out and reported its findings to media outlets and subsequently, the story was picked up by CBS 2 (Channel 2) news.  The same day CBS 2 news aired the story regarding lack of heat at A.B. Davis Middle School; the principal utilized the school district’s K-12 alert system to notify parents about the heat issue at Davis Middle School.  Why didn’t school officials notify parents prior to the CBS Channel 2 picking up the story? What were school officials hiding that they didn’t want the public to know?

The troubles for A.B. Davis Middle School don’t end there.  Mount Vernon Exposed has learned that the principal for A.B. Davis Middle School was handpicked by Judith Johnson and was purposely picked to do her bidding.  Again, school board trustees have failed the taxpayers of Mount Vernon by failing to do a proper background check of an employee of the school district entrusted by parents with the care of their children.

The principle of A.B. Davis Middle School is Joshua Witham and he hails from M.S. 203 in the Bronx.  Witham was Assistant Principal for instruction while he was at M.S. 203.  Due to failing test scores and poor academic performance, M.S. 203 is scheduled to be phased out or closed by the NYC Department of Education.  Sources told Mount Vernon Exposed that Judith Johnson skipped over dozens of applicants that were more qualified than Witham and withheld pertinent information from Board members. 

According to reports, A.B. Davis is listed as a “priority” school.   A priority school is a school that is on its last limb and is on the verge on closure due to poor academic performance.  Why would Judith Johnson bring in a principal from a “priority” school in the Bronx that is on the verge on closing to a “priority” school in Mount Vernon that is on the verge of closing?  Witham should have been sent packing to the unemployment line because of his inability to do his job properly while he was employed at M.S. 203.

According to the report card published by the New York City Department of Education, “Based on an extensive review of qualitative and quantitative data and community feedback, the DOE has determined that M.S. 203 does not have the capacity to quickly improve and is proposing that the school be phased out. Proposing to phase out a school is the most difficult decision we make. We are proposing to phase out M.S. 203 because it is the right action for current and future students in this community. If the proposal to phase out M.S. 203 is approved, the school would phase out gradually over the next several years. The school would close in June 2015 after its phase-out is complete. “

The overwhelming majority of M.S. 203 students remain below grade level in English Language Arts and Math. Only 7% of students were performing on grade level in English—putting the school in the bottom percentile of middle schools Citywide. Only 10% of students were performing on grade level in math—putting the school in the bottom 1% of middle schools Citywide. In both ELA and Math proficiency, M.S. 203 ranks at the bottom of District 7 middle schools. 

M.S. 203 was identified by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) as a Priority school, defined by NYSED as one of the bottom 5% of schools in the state. M.S. 203 was rated “Developing” on its most recent Quality Review in 2010-2011, indicating deficiencies in the way that the school is organized to support student learning.

The school’s attendance rate remains below most other middle schools. The 2011-2012-attendance rate was 88% compared to the citywide middle school average of 93%, putting M.S. 203 in the bottom 5% of New York City middle schools.

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