The head of the elite Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale will step down after next year — capping a scandal-scarred tenure, the Post has learned.
Jessica Bagby announced her departure from Fieldston — which counts Gwyneth Paltrow and Kerry Washington as graduates — in a note to parents sent Tuesday morning.
Bagby, who arrived at Fieldston in 2016, said that she had long prized close connections to parents and students during her career in education.
But with Fieldston continually caroming from one racially and politically charged imbroglio to another, Bagby delicately indicated that those satisfactions had soured.
“The unique complexities of ECFS and the particular challenges that have consumed my focus and time during my tenure here have pulled me away from this vital connection, and I miss it profoundly,” she wrote. “As I consider a variety of future possibilities, the one that calls me next will be the one in which I believe this connection and lifelong joy and passion can be primary.”
In January of 2020, a teacher at the school was fired for anti-Israel social media posts and for apparently flipping the bird during a school assembly.
That controversy stemmed from an earlier appearance at the school by a Columbia University Law School adjunct, who told his audience that Israelis had morphed from victims to oppressors.
“That Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel today — they perpetuate violence against Palestinians that [is] unthinkable,” Kayum Ahmed said.
Parental opinion was split as to the tolerability of Ahmed’s remarks as well as the teacher’s subsequent termination.
In 2019, students at the $53,000 a year school staged a dayslong sit-in inside an administrative building to protest the surfacing of a video where students used racist and homophobic language.
Students and some parents blasted Bagby and others for what they felt was a lax reaction to the footage.
In 2018, an interracial couple with a child at the school filed suit claiming administrators trumped up child neglect raps against them after they complained that Fieldston was allowing kids to self-segregate.
In her note, Bagby praised Fieldston’s progressive mission and said she would be “fully present” for the next 16 months.
“At its best, the school-family partnership helps youngsters begin to discover a sense of meaning and purpose for themselves that is greater and more deeply fulfilling than the pursuit of self-interest alone,” she wrote. “To share in and support this endeavor in this school has been a blessing, and I will consider it so even after I depart in June 2022.”
Bagby added that she was announcing her exit early so that the school could launch its search for a new leader.