Despite stern and unrelenting protest from parents, educators and even Occupy Department of Education demonstrators, nearly 50 New York City public schools are slated for shutdown this summer, increasing the overall total of such targeted institutions well into triple-digits over the last decade and charting the course for what community activists are terming a “take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred-fight” for the soul of their neighborhoods.
Hundreds upon hundreds of concerned and outraged protestors attended a raucous Panel for Educational Policy meeting recently near downtown Brooklyn where they implored and encouraged one another not to succumb to either the circumstances or the powers that be in sacrificing the collective educations and futures of their children.
“Give them the resources, give them the tutors, work with the parents to help them keep their kids accountable and we can turn these schools around,” pleaded Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, ever leery of a process that will now see the schools shuttered, then reopened in the fall with some of the same students, but under a new name and a recast of administrators and faculty that could be as great as 50 percent.
“You’ve hired consultants who know nothing about our children to now guide them,” added NAACP local president Hazel Dukes, discouragingly pointing to statistics that show even with all the recent closings and reorganizations, only 13% of all public school minority students are graduating “college or career” ready.
“Use that money instead to give schools the resources they need,” Dukes added. “Give our kids a chance.”
Since the Bloomberg administration took over the school system in 2002, 140 schools have now closed with another 26 currently slated for shuttering in the coming weeks, the most of any single year to date. Nearly all the closures have been in black or Latino neighborhoods and, sparking community outrage all the more, upon reopening many of the schools no longer serve the same high need students as before, forcing most of them to seek further nurturing in unfamiliar and foreign environments.
“They completely overlook or ignore the most basic of social needs and issues,” said Mavis Yon, chapter leader of General James Elementary School of Science in Brooklyn’s impoverished Brownsville neighborhood.
“Around 98% of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; some of these kids need glasses that their parents can’t afford. What happens when they have to go to other schools that don’t offer such services as all? Things that are just that basic.”
Add to those concerns that of the 396 new schools the administration has opened over the same time frame—most of which likewise don’t serve high risk or need students— and even more observers began to sense an equally sinister but far more reaching plot at work.
Mere months ago, New York Times’ analysis of an Independent Budget Office review found that of the 25 schools than slated for closure, many of them served far more homeless and special education students than the average city school. And yet, those schools were not universally stamped as the city’s worse in terms of overall student achievement. In the end, however, numerous other schools with
weaker records of achievement were being left open.
None of it comes as any great mystery or riddle to lifelong Harlem resident Sandra Thomas. “They want to dismantle public education and public housing,” said Thomas, born and raised in the nearby St. Nicholas Houses. “The city is buying up land and leasing it out. Since the city is already on record as being interested in privatization, that’s just one step closer to putting it in the hands of private real estate developers. Once the land is sold, it’s gone.”
Added Harlem State Sen. Bill Perkins: “I’m tired of the slow death of space being taken away, piece by piece in our communities. “The DOE often says they are providing these new schools to offer choice, but if you live in this part of the city, you will have no choice as a result of them giving all of our public schools away.”
And it’s not just Harlem, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew will have you know. “The entire city is sick and tired of the way the school system is being treated,” Mulgrew told a raucous Brooklyn crowd that recently convened at a PEP gathering to lift their voices.
“Enough is enough,” he added. “What’s happening with the system doesn’t even do justice to the words ‘kangaroo court.’ We have come to speak truth to power. The only thing that needs to be closed is the Department of Education.”
Among the schools slated for closure are Flushing High School of Queens, which has roots dating back to 1875, and William Cullen Bryant, which is the alma mater of former schools chancellor Joel Klein. In addition, once academic powerhouses such as Sheepshead Bay and John Dewey High may also be in their final days.
“I’m really afraid,” said Manhattan Legacy High freshmen Harry Rivas, whose Manhattan school is one of the few in that area now on the chopping block. “We’re not going to be able to get the support and help we need. If you close down the school, you close down the students with it.”
Across much of the country similar scenes are mirroring what’s happening in NYC, particularly fellow large-sized metropolises such as Chicago and Philadelphia, where a plethora of like closings were recently announced.
“The bedrock of our communities has always been our neighborhood schools,” adds Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “When you have a CEO in charge of a school system, as opposed to a real educator, what ends up happening is that they literally have no clue as to how to run the schools.”