Chancellor Black Faces Little Opposition at Harlem School Marked for Phase-Out

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Schools Chancellor Cathie Black attended a hearing Wednesday night on the proposal to close a Harlem Middle School that got a D on its latest report card. Hearings have been taking place all month at the 25 schools the city plans to phase out beginning next fall.

But unlike other hearings, where parents and teachers have protested the plans to close their schools, there was little opposition at IS 195. No parents attended. That could have been due to inclement weather, but the school's United Federation of Teachers representative, Sean Licata, said the IS 195 hasn't had much parent involvement. And the union hasn't rallied to save the school, which Licata conceded "is not an easy place to work." However, he said he didn't agree a phase-out was the best option.

In her opening statement, Black said she wanted to come back to IS 195 because she had visited it a few weeks ago. Afterward, she said the Department of Education learned its lessons from the battles of 2010. The city was blocked from closing 19 schools when two state courts found it didn't provide enough community notification.

"We've been back multiple times," Black said, of the research involved in deciding which schools to close. "Multiple conversations with principals, with the senior leadership team, teachers, getting a sense. And at a certain point you come to a decision and say we believe there are other options. And that's what our whole reform agenda is all about: choice and options."

Deputy Chancellor Mark Sternberg noted that only 13 percent of the students at IS 195 were proficient on the state's English Language Arts exams last year, and that it was in the bottom 10 percent of all city middle schools.

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew says parents and teachers at the meetings are echoing the union's argument that schools have been allowed to fail. He says education officials should intervene when school report cards show low test scores, a rise in the dropout rate or a spike in absenteeism. "We don't want to wait until they're saying that a school is so bad we have to close it, and that's the first time that the school will see people from the Department of Education in their building," Mulgrew said.

The audience Wednesday consisted solely of a few representatives from the teachers union, a parent with children in another school, the guidance counselor and principal and a couple of people whose organizations have partnered with the school over the years. They raised questions about what would happen to special education students from Harlem because IS 195 is the only local barrier-free middle school with ramps and elevators.

Deputy Chancellor Sternberg told them a new middle school would open that would also serve everyone. He also said a principal had been selected with roots in the community, and said details would be shared after the Panel for Educational Policy votes on all the closings next week.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote next week on plans to close 25 low-performing schools. The union has argued that some of those schools were allowed to fail.