A NOTE TO THE N.Y.C. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: SOMETIMES, CLOSING DOWN A SCHOOL IS NOT THE ANSWER.
Lately there has been some controversy swirling around the decisions of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, relative to proposed school closings all over the city. If memory serves me right some players in this brouhaha have even gone to court to stop some (or all) of the proposed closings. I am told that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has opposed some (if not all) of these closings -at least in principle. But then the teachers union is usually an adversary of the chancellor’s office in an almost perfunctory manner, so this isn’t surprising. Now, let me preface this column by stating this: there are surely schools which should be closed -given years upon years of delivering poor quality education to its students; so I am not one trying to look over the shoulders of Department of Education (DOE) officials on the ground. Let’s be clear about that from Jump Street.
Let me also say that although I can go either way on charter schools, I would have preferred the city government demonstrate a more solid commitment to the public school system as traditionally set. You see, I suspect that we are setting ourselves up for a plantation system within public education. And instead of a collective and collaborative system of public schools we are going to eventually see differing classes of schools, worse than what is already in place. I can envisage that the disparities in education levels will be more pronounced in years to come, if we continue down this pathway. Yet, with an open mind, I am willing to give charter schools a chance to flourish, with the intent to (re)evaluate the results in a decade or so; and after all, don’t forget that most of our electeds -at all three levels of government- went along with the changes requested by mayor Bloomberg, when he first sought mayoral control of the city’s educational system, many years ago.
At the end of the year 2013, Bloombug must end his illegal-occupation of Gracie Mansion (unless he hijacks term-limits again) and we will do exactly what he asked us to do eight years ago: judge him by his successes (or failures) in education.
With that said, let me tell you about the possible closing of a charter school in East New York that appears to have pissed-off many parents in the area. It’s the East New York Preparatory Charter School located at #210 Chester Street (near Sutter Avenue). Some of the parents involved told me that they first went to council member Charles Barron with this issue, and that he rebuffed them by saying he “doesn’t support charter schools”. They are hoping now that council member Darlene Mealy can step in and help them stop the closing of ENY Prep.
The results of state mandated tests show that 100% of the grade three students at ENY Prep tested at (or above) grade level in math. In English Language Arts the number was set around 86%; impressive, yes? I thought so too. And yet the school is on probation; with the threat of closure at the end of June this year -hanging over their head.
The big problem here appears to be personality clashes amongst members of the board of directors which govern the school’s day to day functioning. These tiffs (large and small) amongst directors (board members) may have drawn in many teachers at various points. Some of these teachers have since been replaced (or voluntarily departed). And as per usual with these situations some teachers have fans amongst some parents, so there appears to be factions amongst the parents group(s) -and maybe even the board.
The former principal (Ms. Joseph) is now the new executive director and has the support of most of the parents. She is one of the original founders of this charter school and may have been the main mover-shaker on this project; it is obvious that she has rubbed more than a few the wrong way. And yet the quality of the service being delivered (educating these kids at a high level) seems to have not been affected much; thus Ms. Joseph and her inner-core must be doing something right. There has been high teacher turnover and possibly some attrition amongst board members. There appears to have been some financial issues in contention and apparently some conflict of interest issues too. Some are even suggesting that rules governing the board’s function may have been skirted around or broken outright.
Despite all this being said, the parents seem to be in unison when they discuss the quality of education these kids are receiving: they believe it is of a high quality. The other comparable schools around here are all inferior I am told. And yet, if the DOE closes down the Prep, most (if not all) these students will have to be assimilated by the said surrounding inferior schools; it doesn’t seem to make much sense. What do you think?
At a very crowded public meeting on this issue last week, I suggested that DOE officials do the same type of staff-development forums that they do with ineffective teachers, with said board members of this school. Instead of going the drastic route of closing the school, DOE should try to train members to function on a higher level. Punishing the children because of administrative board failures is too punitive and raises many suspicions. There is a pervasive feeling amongst parents that other nefarious motives lurk behind the recent DOE moves (like probation).
My idea was met with some applause; but what I didn’t suggest was that DOE officials recruit more people of color in administration and policy-making. I didn’t want to go there at that venue, but I can go there now. All over the five boroughs, one of the major complaints from parents over the years has been was the paucity of high-placed black and Hispanic officials (especially males) when these kinds of issues surface. Many feel that they are usually talked-down too by condescending white officials from DOE, who are insensitive to their varied educational challenges; officials who seem to have no intent of even trying to understand their cultural perspectives. Most feel that the DOE doesn’t really understand or care about their needs and wants. It is obvious that DOE needs to recruit more black and Hispanic males in most areas of its mission. There are pockets in the black and Hispanic community quite distrustful of the DOE. There is a similar observation as regards to the NYPD, the Fire Department, and many other city entities. If all this isn’t addressed soon, we will find one day that there has been a deep and lingering resentment toward white elites, simmering just below the surface of race relations in this city. Don’t say I never warned you.
Stay tuned in folks.
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