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Panel Votes to Close 10 Schools Following Raucous Hearing

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Tuesday's Panel for Educational Policy vote drew large crowds (Beth Fertig)

A panel controlled by mayoral appointees voted to close 10 low-performing schools Tuesday night following a raucous public hearing that pushed beyond midnight.

Roughly 2,000 parents, students and teachers packed Brooklyn Tech High School's auditorium Tuesday night as the panel, which is poised to close 25 schools, voted to shutter 10 of them during an emotionally charged hearing. The remaining schools will be voted on Thursday.

High school senior Matthew Morgan, 17, who attends Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship for Young Men, described himself as "a man with no ambition" before he came to the school, which the panel voted to close Tuesday night.

But after arriving at an all-boys school in the Bronx, he said, "I had a purpose and a conviction to live out my legacy my ancestors left for me and all of us."

Students and teachers chanted "Save our Schools." Councilman Charles Barron, who was arrested at a protest against the closings on Monday, said no schools should be failing in a system with a $23 billion annual budget.

"Every one of our schools should have smart boards, computer labs, science labs, athletic programs, music programs, art programs, qualified teachers, qualified principals, smaller class sizes," he said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew strongly hinted at the possibility of legal action. His union and the NAACP won a lawsuit last year that found the panel violated state law by voting to close 19 schools without enough community notification.

Mulgrew cited an internal Department of Education report that found large high schools, like some of those being closed, don't do as well with low-performing students as smaller high schools.

"We will be calling on an official investigation of educational neglect," said Mulgrew. "The job of the Department of Education of New York City is to make sure every child is supplied with a good education so they can have a meaningful life."

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky batted down Mulgrew's accusation that this data showed the department allowed students and schools to fail. He told WNYC that "what the report was trying to measure is what does it take to beat the odds," referring to schools that do better than expected with struggling students.

He said the fact that smaller schools did better, overall, with those students supported the department's goal of replacing failing high schools such as Robeson and Jamaica with small schools.

More than 350 people signed up to speak but many of them apparently gave up as the night wore on. Public comments ended at midnight, a few hours earlier than last year. The vote lined up as expected with the proposals winning support from the mayor's eight appointees, while four members appointed by the borough presidents (the Staten Island representative was absent) often voted against the closings and the charter school expansions.

The panel itself provided a few heated moments. A brief, almost physical confrontation erupted between the Manhattan representative, Patrick Sullivan, and a mayoral appointee when Sullivan wanted to postpone the rest of the hearing because of the icy weather.

And after the public comment period, a few panel members spent an hour asking questions of Department of Education officials. There were cheers from the remaining audience of about 100 teachers and parents when Manhattan representative Sullivan - known for taking on the Bloomberg Administration - pointedly asked Chancellor Cathie Black whether putting a Harlem Success charter in the Wadleigh High School campus would cause overcrowding.

Black said the department would make sure the co-location worked and that the Success charters have produced results.

Hundreds of others at the hearing were drawn Tuesday by another equally controversial proposal to give the Success network of charter schools more space in two Harlem district school buildings, and to let it open a new elementary school inside the Upper West Side's Brandeis campus that now houses four small high schools.

The network is run by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. She organized yellow school buses to bring her supporters to and from the hearing and provided them with sandwiches, drinks and talking points.

"My experience in fifth grade has been wonderful. I had the best education I could possibly have," 10-year old Faith Rodriguez testified of her experience at Harlem Success Academy 1. "Wow, it's just so sad kids my age cannot get the education I have."

The student was cheered as she also called for more space and "bold, fast change" to reform the city's schools "not in 20 years, but now."

Those two phrases were included in a script given to the leaders of each bus-load of Success network parents, children and teachers who had come from Harlem and from the network's new schools in the Bronx. They were told to expect "hundreds of union representatives and others protesting school closures. Those protests will send the message that the public doesn't want change."

The plan to bring a new Success elementary charter into the Brandeis campus was opposed by the local community board. Community education council district 3 president Noah Gotbaum added that parent associations on the Upper West Side also opposed it, because they want more resources in their existing schools.

"What level of community opposition do you need to turn your attention to our public schools?" he asked, adding: "These co-locations pit parents and families against each other."

Gotbaum was booed by some supporters of charters.

An alum of the Urban Assembly school for young men, Irique Huntt, 20, ripped the panel for allowing the room full of public school students and families to become divided over privately-managed charters and regular schools.

"The thing is y'all should not have us competing in here," he shouted.

The panel voted to close the Academy for Collaborative Education and KAPPA II in Manhattan. It also voted to phase-out the Academy for Environmental Sciences High School and I.S. 195 in Manhattan, the Metropolitan Corporate Academy High School and Paul Robeson High in Brooklyn, School for Community Research and Learning, Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship of Young Men, Monroe Academy for Business and Law High School, and New Day Academy in the Bronx. The remaining schools on the list will be voted on Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Tech's auditorium.

Update: Two schools slated for closure and replacement that were going to be voted on this week, PS 30 and PS 231 in Queens, will be taken up next month. The department of education says a public hearing that was required for one of the schools before the vote had to be postponed because of last week's snow storm. And an extra hearing has been scheduled for the second school. As a result, the panel will vote on 13 school closings/phase-outs at the Thursday meeing.

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Comments [10]

LHoward625 from Queens

It is amazing how we as a community of learners/educators have been convinced by the DOE to belittle and attack each other. Teaching is a profession and In any employment situation teaching and or otherwise if administrators DOE or non would follow proper documented procedures for the disciplining of teachers then these problems could have clearly been avoided. We know this has not been the case. History has proven this.

Now all of a sudden the DOE wishes to get rid of senior teachers as if they are no longer effective. This is madness. This is like saying because my grandparents are older they can no longer teach us anything... I alway thought that wisdom and experience came with time...If I am looking for a doctor to address my heart condition, I know I am not looking for one who has only been practicing for 1 to 5 years .

At the PEP mtg Feb 1, 2011 I observed parents arguing with parents, children where begging for something they are entitled too. How is it that the DOE is not held accountable for all of this?

This meeting was shameful. There were far to many individuals who felt unheard and the clear disinterest of the PEP panel members .

Feb. 02 2011 09:00 PM
Swanssi from NYC

How about providing mentoring beginning teachers, proven successful professional development for the staff, pair the struggling administrators with good, solid, proven school leaders and leave politics at the schoolroom door?

Feb. 02 2011 03:22 PM
MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill

Liz from New Haven, CT your first hand observation is spot on! From my short experience working in the NYC school system and interacting with well-meaning teachers, mandates from the state and board had more to do limiting the effectiveness of teachers than teacher's ability. Until change occurs that encourage and allow teachers the leeway to employ creative approaches in teaching children, along with the development of dynamic supportive environments (ala Google), school will continue, unfortunately, to fail.

Feb. 02 2011 11:39 AM
MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill

It is crazy this vilification of teachers. Somehow, the policies and practices of those higher in the hierarchy has no bearing on the failures in the US ability to educate its children. By magic, suburban schools succeed , while urban schools (mostly attended by black and Hispanic children) fail. Until the society figures out how to ensure that all parents are invested in their child's future; that high standards are enforces regardless of the location of a school, and teachers are given the support and ongoing training necessary to ensure success; are given the same reverence given doctors and stock brokers, a large segment of US schools public and charter) will continue to fail.

Feb. 02 2011 11:16 AM
Ella Matthews from Brooklyn, NY

Make the classes smaller. Closing down a school is a crazy idea. Make the failing school better. We have money for all kinds of crazy ideas, but spending money on smaller class size is not even regarded as a possibility in this discussion. The most ineffective teachers in the world will become more effective with smaller classes.

Feb. 02 2011 10:34 AM
Anni from D3 parent

On the way to the PEP mtg last night, I saw a subway car ad for Macbeth @ BAM: "What is done cannot be undone." Indeed. The cavalier manner in which the PEP determines the fate of thousands of city children was a shocker, even to those who knew to expect a fully-passed slate. How many PEP members did not even bother to ask a single question of the DOE? Shameful. Here comes ed privatization - watch it snowball now.

Feb. 02 2011 10:25 AM

It's scary how easy and acceptable it has become to blame teachers for everything. Especially offensive is the claim that teachers have "jobs for life," and all they have to do is "show up." Anybody who is a teacher, or has a friend or family member who is a teacher, knows that this idea is simply preposterous. If we keep playing the blame game, what incentive do you think teachers will have to work with our city's most needy and challenging students? Schools who serve these populations, largely poor, with greater percentages of English language learners, should be offered the same access to resources, technology, great leadership and money that charter schools are reaping, instead of being threatened and bullied.

Feb. 02 2011 09:27 AM
laurie from D3 - Upper West Side

How many of the PEP panel members ever set foot in a single one of the public schools which they voted to "phase-out" or "co-locate?" The Greeks knew centuries ago -- the gods are capricious and sometimes malicious.

Feb. 02 2011 09:05 AM
Howard Johnson

One statistic tells it all. 30,000 teachers in NYC, fewer than 30 were fired last year. The gorilla in the room is the fact that once tenured, NYC teachers have jobs for life. Name another profession where no meaningful evaluation is ever done and average people can stay forever. Great teachers make great schools, period.

Feb. 02 2011 07:51 AM
Liz from New Haven, CT

I am a mathematics teacher who did my student teaching in Brooklyn. I now work in New Haven, CT, because the hiring freeze prevented me from finding employment in NYC. When students enter high school or middle school with skill levels drastically below grade level, it is not fair to judge the high school and middle school teachers on the student's failure. Rather than closing schools, why not suspend mandatory state and city tests for students with high skill deficits and design intervention programs that teach and reinforce basic skills. This way students will be capable of performing the tasks asked of them. Now what happens is a teacher is given a full curriculum with no time for basic skill building and expected to both remediate and teach new skills. Students aren't machines, they need time to process new information. The current system is a recipe for failure for all students who begin the year behind academically.

Feb. 02 2011 07:03 AM

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