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Parents, teachers, and students rally against school closings

HANNINGTON DINA Special to the AmNews | 4/26/2012, 1:22 p.m.

Angry at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial "turnaround" process--which would close and reopen 33 public high schools under new names and teachers--New York City teachers, parents and students met outside Tweed Courthouse in downtown Manhattan last Thursday for a rally against the plan.

"Teachers are suffering, and more importantly, students are suffering," said Gina Sartore, a former teacher at a Ft. Greene high school. "Schools are being taken right out from under them. It's a policy of cutting schools without giving them the resources they actually need and using testing to measure them. And then [students] don't do well and it's 'Oh, we close your school.' Then they're punished."

Franklin Delano High School English teacher Megan Behrent has experienced a close call with a "turnaround." FDR was one of the seven schools slated to shut down under the plan, which would have forced her to re-apply to an uncertain job pool. While Behrent's job was saved when her school was spared closing, at this point, she does not feel like celebrating.

"As long as this model is even a possibility, all schools are under threat. It's a blatant attack," Behrent said. "It's anti-labor policy masquerading as education policy that has nothing to do with improving schools.

They're willing to disrupt an entire school so that they can bash the teachers' union and make teachers re-apply for jobs they've already been doing effectively for years."

Citing FDR's large ESL student population and oversized classes--she teaches over 170 students in five classes per day--Behrent said schools need to cater more to their immigrant youth and decrease class sizes to improve educational quality in the five boroughs.

"There's a lot of factors, [including] more parent involvement and obviously greater student responsibility," added Michael Vallone, another FDR high school teacher. "There does have to be some monitoring of teacher effectiveness. If they're looking to weed out the bad teachers, this is totally the wrong way to do this. Some kids take a little bit longer to learn; some kids don't."

At a public speak-out a few minutes later, community members voiced their frustrations via a megaphone. One teacher remarked on a rumor that the mayor is planning on closing 75 more schools, a report former mayoral candidate Bill Thompson recently noted. Another promised a yearlong movement against school closings, noting a continuous cycle in which the Panel for Educational Policy meets to shut down campuses and the opposition gives up after the vote.

Two pupils from Grover Cleveland High School also spoke to the crowd. Along with FDR, Cleveland was among the seven campuses that narrowly avoided a shutdown.

"I'm 100 percent against these proposals that Mayor Bloomberg thinks are amazing for our school," said student Diana Rodriguez. "He does not know anything about the system. This turnaround proposal, where he's getting rid of 50 percent of the staff and changing the school's name--changing the school's name? Is that even about education?"

"In my school, we used to have an automobile class and a gymnastics team," said student Brian. "Now we can't even afford props when we wanna hold events for our community. What we have to do as students is do fundraisers just to raise the money to hold events."

Unfortunately, the ensuing march didn't even manage to get off the block.

After marchers made a left onto nearby Broadway, they walked down the street until they reached Park Row. Here, NYPD officers erected metal barricades, telling the protestors they couldn't go any further. According to one participant, this was because the march organizers only applied for a short permit.

On April 26, the Panel for Educational Policy will meet to discuss the latest schools on the chopping block.