There was no warning, no hint anything was amiss when the school year at St. John’s School started in September.
Edward Higgins was there, as he had been for the past five years, welcoming students as they walked through the doors at 3143 Kingsbridge Ave.
Everything changed a few weeks later when the school sent a letter home with students suddenly announcing a new principal.
“I write to inform you, effective immediately, Mr. Edward Higgins will be departing as principal of St. John’s School in Kingsbridge,” wrote John Riley, the superintendent of schools in the northwest and south Bronx region for the Archdiocese of New York, on Oct. 12. “I know you will join me in wishing Mr. Higgins well and thanking him for his many years of dedicated service to St. John’s and the ministry of Catholic education.”
Riley offered no further details about Higgins, instead introducing Melissa Cardona-Moore as the new administrator. That had some parents demanding answers from the Archdiocese. They created a petition pushing for more information.
That information, however, appears to not be forthcoming.
“We are singularly focused on supporting the St. John’s school community in another outstanding academic year ahead,” said Nick Iacono, an Archdiocese spokesman, offering no other details on what happened with Higgins when asked by The Riverdale Press.
“Mr. Higgins was an excellent principal for the past five years,” said Daisy Wilder, founder and executive member of the parent association St. John’s Home and School Association.
“We had a meeting with Mr. Riley, the regional superintendent, at the end of last year. He asked how Mr. Higgins was doing. We all said he was doing wonderfully. We love having him. This literally, just came out of nowhere.”
Wilder and other parents created the petition days after Higgins’ departure, garnering approximately 100 signatures in less than a week.
The Archdiocese acknowledged the petition “but they won’t let us know why” Higgins left, said Eileen Singletary, another member of the association. “A lot of students were devastated (and) crying, my children as well.”
Higgins knew everyone by name, and “was here at 6:20 every morning, was here at dismissal,” Singletary said. “He had an open-door policy where parents could reach him without a problem.”
While some might support Higgins, he also had a contingent who wanted him removed as principal, creating a petition of their own. It’s not clear what kind of impact that petition may have had in the ultimate decision to part way with Higgins, and none of those involved reached by The Press would comment.
St. John’s “has undergone a gradual change from a warm welcoming place (under a previous principal) … to one where rules are routinely broken for the benefit of the staff, and where parental concerns are hushed over,” according to a draft of that petition obtained by The Press.
The petition also claimed a teacher’s aide was harassed in graduation Mass by Higgins, who asked who invited her and that she should “leave now.”
Higgins did not return repeated requests for comment.
Higgins “routinely” took students out of class to stuff envelopes and prepare alumni mailings during school hours, the petition claimed. On other occasions, students were “sent down to the office to make coffee for the principal or teachers.”
Those parents also claim Higgins threatened to fire a teacher in front of his students. That teacher, Steven Buffington, taught at St. John’s for 13 years, and corroborated that account. He even helped the parents who wanted to get rid of Higgins create the petition when they asked him for copy editing help.
Buffington ultimately earned a poor job performance review after a decade of positive feedback, he said. He now teaches at a public school outside of the city
In a statement, Iacono said the Archdiocese had “no interest in engaging with the unfounded gossip and rumors of a former employee” in regards to Buffington.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Wilder said, as she and fellow parents seek answers about Higgins. “It still doesn’t make sense.“