During last Thursday’s rally in front of the school, Jason, one of about a dozen faculty members who spoke out, said, “If we don’t act now, this school will be gone forever.” Jason Coles teaches voice at the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA). As he spoke, he welled with emotion, regained composure and led the chant from parents and faculty, “We want the truth. We want the truth.”
Emmanuel Ephraim, a member of the Parent Association, has called for meetings to decide what to do about the board, the recitals and what must be done to keep the school open. He said, “We are here to show the whole of New York why this school matters to us.”
Councilman Bob Jackson stood with the parents to represent elected officials’ concern over the lack of communication between the board and the school. “It’s about transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity, and those are the issues. I met with the chair of the board; the interim executive director, and Kate Levin, chair of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and they communicated what needed to be done. It is clear to me that we need to get over the initial hurdle of paying staff, finish this semester and arrange to be open during the summer. After that, we need to look at interim and long-term goals for leadership. We have to show them that our community is not willing to allow this school to be closed.”
State Sen. Bill Perkins’ chief of staff, Cordell Cleare, was among the Harlem representatives, saying, “We are here to support the parents and we’re here to find out what’s going on. This is as new to us as it is new to the whole community, and Senator Perkins is in Albany [as we speak], fighting to get a budget passed for HSA right now.”
Patricia Eaton, parent of a former student who graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in voice, worked with Dorothy Leigh Maynor and noted, “Ms. Maynor’s dream was to teach children the arts, not necessarily to make artists out of them but to expose them to their culture, and she did that. She traveled with [her students] everywhere and built this award-winning building, and Betty Allen saw to it that the mortgage was burned [the building paid for]. We need people who will not steal from the building or its physical plant, or the funds that are contributed to the building. We need a new board and a new executive director.”
Sheila Edwards, a parent of HSA and one of the organizers of the Parent Association, responded to rumors swirling in 2009: “The board said absolutely nothing to us last year [when the Parent Association raised concerns about the status of the schools finances]. We met with Chris Paci, board chair, and Greg Smith, former employee of HSA, and we said there are rumors that the school is closing, that the school is broke and that you are about to sell the building.
Paci and Smith said we are not closing the school, the school is having some financial problems, but we have a plan for that. Mr. Paci said it is absolutely not our intention to sell the building. Two of the things that he said were absolutely not going to happen have happened.”
During the rally, dance instructor Yvonne Perry described a recent experience to the group gathered: “I walked in HSA last Thursday to teach my class, and as a faculty member, up to this minute, I have not received an e-mail from HSA and I am an employee. I come here a couple of times a week. If it wasn’t for some of the parents, I wouldn’t have known anything.”