“How do you leave our children without educational support?” demanded irate parent Monique Small at an emergency PTA meeting of Satellite III in Bed-Stuy.
Small is a parent of a student at one of the 19 schools on the latest DOE hit list for school closure, and parents citywide are fighting mad that the DOE is trying to phase out their schools.
“I have always been opposed to all closures,” said Bed-Stuy Councilman Al Vann. “I feel that the DOE has not done enough to support the schools. Rather than giving them the technical assistance and support they need, they are closing these schools and opening new ones, which is very expensive.”
Benjamin Green, president of the president’s council of the district’s Parent Teachers Association, warned parents at the PTA meetings he attended this week that Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with 18 months of his term left, “is determined to find space for 50 new middle schools and 55 new charters,” and once they begin occupying public school property, they’re in. And Bloomberg’s “got to get them in now.”
“The charter schools have a pipeline straight to the [schools] chancellor,” said Green. He implored parents to get in the trenches and fight for their schools.
Brooklyn parents are charging that Bloomberg, who grabbed mayoral control of New York City’s 1,100 public schools in 2002, is more concerned with serving the financial interests of his hedge fund friends and pushing their charter school agenda than the fundamental education of millions of students.
“This isn’t about education, this is about real estate,” said Small, saying that even though her child is about to graduate, she will still fight to keep “Satellite III-a great school-open because it cares about the children. It is a family here.”
“Gentrification is changing our neighborhoods. Not only do the new white neighbors want our brownstones and the new condos that are springing up, they want the schools next door to them,” said Wilmon Cousar, the parent of a child in a New York City school. The former teacher continued, “These parents are tired of paying the exorbitant school fees, so they look at the public school up the block, and they decide that they will work the system to get it. Their argument that all these schools are struggling and that’s why Bloomberg is closing them just seems convoluted.”
While Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott did not respond to email and phone call requests for comment, he advised Frank Thomas, DOE spokesman, to speak with the paper.
“We don’t look at it from a real estate position. We look at replacing struggling schools with new schools,” said Thomas.
By Wednesday, Vann had attended the PTA meetings of three schools scheduled for closure in his district: Academy of Business and Community Development (Brooklyn), Frederick Douglass Academy and Satellite III.
“No matter how valid the concerns are that the community expresses or the UFT expresses, the DOE has made the decision to close these schools,” Vann told the AmNews. “Parents and the community must express their outrage, because the DOE needs to know that we are not pleased. There needs to be powerful community involvement.”
Thomas said that the DOE took into consideration poor math and English scores, which indicated to the department that the school was failing its students
For that reason, he maintained, the DOE had begun a process of “early engagement” with each school on the list because “time is of the essence here,” as the schools are failing their students. Asked if the proposed hearings in the schools up for closure are merely an exercise in exercising, Thomas told the AmNews that the hearings were “mandated by law to hear the comments on the proposals.”
Out of the 25 schools slated for closure, 10 were opened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. To an outside observer, his handling of the school system, which he told New Yorkers to judge him on, could be considered what one teacher called “an abysmal failure.”
In a statement, Walcott declared: “After two months of conversations with school leadership teams, parents and communities and a close examination of the academic performances and environments in these schools, we have made the decision to propose a number of schools for phaseout and middle school truncation.
“These are never easy decisions, but when a school has failed to serve its students well year after year-even after receiving additional supports-we have a responsibility to provide students with better options. We are already hard at work creating the great new schools that these communities deserve.”
The plan is to replace the schools being phased out with new schools, often times in the same building. The DOE will consider these phaseout and truncation proposals at the Feb. 9 PEP meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School.
Thomas clarified that all is not lost and that grades are allowed to complete their remaining years, though no new students will be admitted. When the phaseout is complete, the school will reopen with “a replacement one.”
The AmNews asked why shutting down the entire building, clearing out all the students and renaming the school was seen as a cost-effective measure as opposed to, say, replacing a principal or some of the staff.
“It allows us to change the school culture and get new staff in there,” said Thomas. “By and large, our replacement schools are doing much better than the schools they have replaced.”
The always primed Councilman Charles Barron blasted the latest round of proposed cuts. “We need to end mayoral control of our schools. Mayor Bloomberg has been a failure,” he told the AmNews. “School closures are his attempt to privatize our education system and bring in charter schools. Only 21 of our children are prepared for college. That is startling.
“Bloomberg is using the DOE to give no-bid contracts to the rich and take over real estate for his Wall Street hedge fund buddies who are funding the charter school movement.”
“It’s unconscionable,” Barron continued. “We saved M.S. 114 because we fought for the school. We challenged what the DOE said about the school and came to find that half of the problems were their fault. We came up with an alternative two-year strategy to turn the school around, and they took us off the list, but we stayed protesting.”