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Supporters rally behind beloved Brooklyn teacher recently fired

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FLATBUSH -- Supporters say Fredrick Underwood was one of the best principals in the 18th District.  Which is why they were shocked when he received a letter saying he would be let go earlier this week after being denied tenure for years. What makes matters worse is they believe the decision was based on politics not performance.

"Often times we worry ourselves and concern ourselves about having the right educator in our buildings, and here it is now we do have such a person, but unfortunately he has come under attack," said community activist Tony Herbert.

Underwood has been the principal at I.S. 285 in East Flatbush for the last seven years. Despite mostly positive reviews and increased test scores, Underwood was denied tenure on multiple occasions. Last week he was fired in a letter from the Department of Education.

Members of the Brooklyn Clergy Coalition believe the firing could be a result of Underwood's support of the "My Brother's Keeper" program which brings churches into the school to provide additional support for students.

"This is a personal attack. From where we don't know," said Ayana Vason with the Brooklyn Clergy Coalition. "But it has nothing to do with his professionalism. It has nothing to do with his ability to run a school."

In fact, I.S. 285 has outperformed many other schools in the failing district.

A recent report by the New York Times found I.S. 285 had a higher performance index for grades 6, 7 and 8 than the district average. The report also found that I.S. 285 had a lower percentage of students below state standards in all three grades.

"We find that other principals are staying in their office, sitting back, the schools are failing, there's no productivity.  We're wondering why is that okay?" asked Pastor Joseph Cox.

Which is why dozens of supporters went to meet with the District 18 Superintendent Thursday.  Still despite being told they had a meeting, the group was sent away after being told the Superintendent cannot discuss the personnel decision.  But that didn't stop teachers and parents from voicing their support for the principal.

"I've been with Mr. Underwood for six years, since he's been a principal there, and he's been working continuously, nonstop to better that school," said teacher Warren Nicholson.

"I've seen Mr. Underwood come in and change the whole dynamic of the neighborhood," said parent Venus Legall. "There used to be fights everyday, vandalism and now the kids are dismissed, they're leaving off the block and doing what they have to do.  There's no more fights, there's no more vandalism."

The Department of Education has been critical of Mr. Underwood in the past.  The Office of Special Investigation has looked into several claims against the former principal, but all of those claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

“We listen closely to the concerns of the school community, and we will continue to work with them to ensure high-quality instruction and improve achievement at this school,” said DOE Spokesperson Devora Kaye.

But Underwood's supporters say the DOE hasn't worked with them at all to this point.  The Chancellor didn't respond to dozens of letters from teachers or a petition signed by hundreds of people in the community.

"At the end of the day and what have you politics and stupidity has no room in our schools.  Our kids are deserving of an education and an educator that will afford them an opportunity to be as equal as any other community out here," said Herbert.

The Department of Education says the personnel change will have no impact on the "My Brother's Keeper" program at I.S. 285,  but the BCC isn't giving up the fight for Mr. Underwood.  They have another meeting scheduled with the District Superintendent July 8th.