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At Turnaround Meeting, the Big Question Was 'Why?'

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 08:49 AM

WNYC Turnaround Hearing in Brooklyn

More than 150 teachers, parents and students showed up at a hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall Monday evening, questioning the mayor's plan to close and reopen 33 schools.

The Bloomberg administration is pursuing the plan so it can reclaim millions of dollars in federal funds it lost because it didn't have a teacher evaluation system in place by the end of last year.

But protesters at the hearing were skeptical of the mayor's motivations, with several speakers suggesting the turnaround plan, which involves replacing up to half the teaching staff at each school, is a strategy to pressure the teachers union to come back to the negotiating table and finalize the details of an evaluation system.

Martina Hooker, a computer design teacher at John Dewey High School, says the mayor's plan makes no sense now that the governor has negotiated the framework for an evaluation system.

"A lot of what they want to do with our new school is what we've been doing, and to fire the teachers that built all those programs that they want to continue in their new school is a real slap in the face," she said.

Tony Sclafani, a teachers union representative for Brooklyn, claimed the mayor was using the schools as a bargaining chip.

"All I know is, no matter how you cut it, these 33 schools are being held hostage by this blood-sucking mayor," he said to thunderous applause, before leading the crowd in a chant of "Free the 33."

Several teachers wore bright yellow buttons that said "stop holding our schools hostage" and students from some of the schools carried signs with the slogan.

Elaine Gorman, the Department of Education's newly appointed Chief Executive of Turnaround, told those attending the Monday night hearing that the schools in question would continue to take the same students, after closing and reopening with new names by September.

But she said the schools would have to let go of all their teachers and then hire back about half, after forming committees composed of city officials and union representatives to help make the hiring decisions.

Many of those in attendance came to the defense of their teachers and their schools. Shataya Walford, 18, a senior at Dewey High School, said her grades had improved with the help of dedicated teachers, and said losing them would be devastating to other students.

Bryan Hall, a math teacher at Dewey, noted the recent graduation rate increase. Almost 66 percent of students graduated on time last year, an increase from 57 percent three years ago.

"We're performing as well as anyone should expect us to do," he said, surrounded by students and teachers wearing red Dewey T-shirts. "It doesn't make sense to get rid of teachers who have been there, who have been performing."

And some teachers from W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School carried an enlarged poster version of their latest school report card, on which the school had earned an A.

Students at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies noted that their school had earned three B's in a row on the city's rating system.

The city has scheduled a hearing on April 26 when the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on plans to close and reopen the schools.


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