The “decade of disaster,” is what the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has called Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 10-year control of the New York City public school system. “Stop playing politics with our schools,” it says in a new ad.
“We had three different principals in a 10-month period for Satellite III. Just imagine a country run by three presidents in one year,” said Zahar Idriss, a math teacher at Satellite III, speaking at a joint hearing for M.S. 103 Satellite III’s proposed closure last week, where audience members listened to a range of speakers, including parents, students, education advocates and representatives from the Department of Education (DOE).
“We were determined to prove to the DOE that now that we have one permanent leader in Principal [Beatrice] Thompson, things will be much different, and we will be doing whatever it takes to show everyone that this is not what Satellite II middle school is, not a D school!”
As the date approaches for Bloomberg’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), scheduled for Feb. 9, at Brooklyn Technical High School, there have been and will continue to be protest rallies from advocates and students trying to save the 33 schools on the chopping block. In a scene replicated citywide as an alliance of parents, students and teachers came out to fight for their school at Satellite III, DOE Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm explained to an anxious audience why the Bloomberg administration has added their school to his latest list for closure, phase out or co-location.
Idriss continued in his passionate delivery. “This year, we have one principal, not three! This year, the teachers are collaborating at a high level and putting tremendous effort to take the students at Satellite III to the next level. We are determined to prove that we are not what our progress report grade says we are,” Idriss told the packed audience. “We were determined to prove that this was a bump in a long, successful road, and that we are going to bounce back from it.”
Parents in the meeting told DOE members on the panel that it was their department that was to blame for schools not doing as well as they suggested they should. “Somebody dropped the ball and thought, ‘Let’s fix the problem by bringing another middle school with no theme or vision to the same floor.’ How is this going to help our current students? Why don’t you say instead, let’s give this leadership a chance and support them to help this school, which is an integral part of the Clinton Hill community?” asked Idriss.
The dedicated teacher said that the school has seen a marked improvement and a steady return to its usual status. He told the audience, “According to the DOE, we are closing because of our numbers. According to them, it doesn’t matter that we had multiple leaders in a small period of time or that our school is now improving and our attendance has gone up. We’re not even getting the chance to receive new test scores this spring.
“The 2007-2008 progress report grade: B; 2008-2009 progress report grade: B; 2009-2010 progress report grade: C; 2010-2011 progress report grade: D. During the 2009-2010 school year, every school in New York City dropped by an astounding average of 26 percent in ELA and 29 percent in math.”
Also, during the 2010-2011 school year, Idriss said that even though “the school did not have two ELA and math teachers until November of 2010, we were still able to move our students up in mathematics. With all the instability in our building, we were still able to graduate a class of eighth graders who took the Integrated Algebra Regents and had 100 percent passing for the fourth year in a row.”
Now, he said, “We are not even given a chance to heal the wounds.”
As a host of educational officials have visited the school, he said, “They noticed that we are on the right track to having a successful school year and offered some helpful tips to continue to raise the bar of expectations and about how we will get out of this situation. They could see that this is not a struggling school and that we are really going to be able to get through this with our current leadership.”
In 2010, former Principal Kenyatta Reid resigned when he went to open a new Eagle Academy middle school in Queens. What followed, said staff, parents and students, was 10 months of discontent shrouded in stalled educational progress, wrapped in a defeated morale that permeated the entire school.
Teachers attempted to impart lessons and students strove to learn in spite of the somewhat hostile environment. The school’s progress report grade went from a B to a D. Parents charged that the DOE had played a deliberate built-to-fail move to give them grounds to close the school as they ushered in a new one under Bloomberg’s plan to establish 50 new charters and 55 new middle schools before the end of his term in 2013.
In a letter that was read to the audience and sent to New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, state Education Department Commissioner Dr. John B. King Jr. and Panel for Educational Policy members, City Councilman Al Vann, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries charged that interim Principal Ronald Wells “mismanaged the school, was unresponsive, discontinued popular advanced programs for gifted and talented students and provided little support to teachers and staff, devastating morale.”
The elected officials stated, “We again request the withdrawal of your current proposal for Satellite III.”
The all-boys Academy for Business and Community Development is scheduled to be closed down this summer and their meeting is on Jan. 31.
Next month, PEP will vote on the future of 33 schools that Bloomberg wants to shutter, downsize or co-locate. He wants to phase out Satellite III and create a new middle school, M.S. 351.
The letter, signed by Vann, Montgomery and Jeffries, chastised the DOE, stating, “Your proposal to phase out the school is premature and unwarranted given the full history of the school’s performance and decisions made by the department that resulted in its recent problems, which are the basis for the proposal.
“Under its current leadership, the new administration has demonstrated the ability to turn the school around, but must be given sufficient time. Although the department has recently failed to provide adequate support for Satellite III and has cut more than a quarter of a million dollars from its budget over the last three years, the school has always been considered proficient by the department’s quality reviews.”
At the same time parents were politely screaming at Grimm at Satellite III, up the road, parents of P.S. 161 students in Crown Heights took to the street to protest Bloomberg’s plan to downsize their school. While Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg tried to assure a vocal audience that the school is not closing, they held up signs declaring that PEP stands for “Parents Excluded on Purpose.”
The DOE didn’t respond to a request for a statement.