It was just a regular morning day for Erika Williams. She dropped off her fourth-grader Zayden at school, watching him walk up the flights of stairs to the front entrance of St. John’s School.
She continued on to work, satisfied he was being well cared for in St. John’s early arrival program. But no sooner did Williams walk into the door of her office, she received a shocking telephone call.
A family friend told her Zayden was not where he was supposed to be, instead heading to the schoolyard of its 3143 Kingsbridge Ave., campus.
“At this point I started crying because I knew this is something he would do,” Williams said. Zayden sometimes has a tendency to walk off, and requires supervision once he arrives at school.
After learning Zayden was inside the school and fine, Williams immediately reached out to the school with a bunch of questions and concerns, but said she received few answers from St. John’s recently installed principal Melissa Cardona-Moore.
The administrator was just a few days into her tenure at that point following the surprise departure of Edward Higgins.
Neither Cardona-Moore nor the Archdiocese of New York would return multiple requests for comment.
“There was no comfort,” Williams said. “It was almost like she didn’t care or offer any sympathy.”
Cardona-Moore never contacted her during the day or evening following Zayden’s impromptu field trip, Williams said. She finally exchanged words with Cardona-Moore the next day — a meeting she had to initiate. It came after a teacher who monitors early morning drop off tried to convince her Zayden never wandered in the first place.
Williams said she waited around at the school because the principal had not yet arrived and wanted to speak with her.
“It was almost like an interrogation,” Williams said. Cardona-Moore said she didn’t reach out the day before because she wanted to talk to the teachers involved first.
“She basically insinuated I was a bad mother” for not leaving work to find out what happened in person, Williams said.
Williams isn’t alone in her concerns for the new principal.
Daisy Wilder, one of the founders and an executive member of the school’s parents association, St. John’s Home and School Association, said Cardona-Moore does not have enough experience leading a school and is not the best fit for the job.
She worked with Cardona-Moore during the association’s events like the school’s Halloween party and paint night events, saying Cardona-Moore has an abrasive manner and is unfriendly toward parents. Her demeanor has Wilder wondering how she interacts with students.
Both Wilder and Williams were signers of a petition that ultimately garnered the support of 100 parents, which was delivered to the Archdiocese, requesting answers on former principal Higgins’ surprise departure.
The concerns are not based on the desire to see Higgins’ return or out of spite, Williams said. Cardona-Moore is simply not suited for the position. She believes Cardona-Moore might be helping the Archdiocese justify closing the school by causing enough disenrollment that St. John’s would no longer be self-sustaining.
There is a lack of communication from the Archdiocese on or even what their plan is moving forward, Williams said.
Closing schools is not far-fetched, especially in this part of the Bronx. Just last February, the Archdiocese said it was closing nearby Visitation School on West 239th Street with five other Catholic schools.
Before joining St. John’s, Cardona-Moore was an assistant principal of Ascension School in Manhattan. Additionally, Cardona-Moore was a school building leader and summer school program administrator at Mount Saint Michael Academy High School, according to a letter Riley sent to parents announcing her appointment.
While Wilder has raised the concerns of some parents, Cardona-Moore has made a favorable impression on others.
“My daughter loves her,” said Vivian Salcedo, a St. John’s alum whose daughter is a pre-kindergarten student. “If she’s happy I guess (Cardona-Moore’s) doing a great job.”
Although she had not met Cardona-Moore yet, she expects to in the near future.
“I just hope to know more about her and that she is going to take care of the school and the students, and be there for them, just the way I heard the other principal was,” said another parent, Anna Rodriguez.
That hasn’t swayed either Wilder or Williams.
“When asked to have simple things addressed, (Cardona-Moore) may make one statement, and then she will double back and say something totally different,” Wilder said. “And when it’s addressed, she becomes combative with the parents.”