2004-12-17 / Columnists

School Scope

On Parent Councils And Small Schools
By Norman Scott


District Parent Councils

Former District 27 school board president Steven Greenberg’s letter to The Wave a few months ago criticizing the School Scope column for not covering local events continues to provide us with interesting material. Greenberg wrote: “…he [Scott] seems oblivious to the many good changes the new regime has done in Rockaway, things that never could have been accomplished under the structure of the old Central Board for which Mr. Scott yearns.”

Greenberg continued: “Over my desk at work hangs the following words, Insanity is continuing the same process while hoping for a different or better result. Unfortunately the mantra of the old Board of Education never allowed the process to change. Now, let’s be clear. … the D of E seems intent on taking local control away. The new District Councils have the power, authorized by the State Assembly, to have a good deal of local control, even more than the local School Boards had. I also am not naive enough to believe that these changes in the Rockaway schools mean instant success and certainly there will be many bumps along the way.  At least a new process has been put into place and School Scope should be letting us know how these changes are progressing.”

So how are these changes progressing? Check this blurb from a recent NY Times article: “Fearful they are being marginalized by the Bloomberg administration, the parent councils that replaced New York City’s community school boards have banded together to form an association and hired Norman Siegel, the civil rights lawyer, as their legal adviser. The council leaders said they voted to form the association… to make parents and communities a credible force in the running of the public schools, under a highly-centralized system in which, they said, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein seem to hold all the cards.”

Howard Schwach’s From the Editor’s Desk column in The Wave recently addressed the issue of parental involvement in the process of choosing principals, known as the C-30 process. He compared the former process with the current procedures, which in essence take the parent totally out of the game. While he discusses the cronyism and corruption of the old school boards, there is a vague hint of nostalgia for the old system. The old and new (and maybe future) governance issue is so complex that dealing with it in a column is impossible, so I will touch on one or two issues.

I recently spoke to a principal who lamented the loss of the districts because the Region support system (an often laughable concept) is so far away geographically. In my old District 14 in Williamsburg, we could travel from a centrally located district office to any school in about 10 minutes. Parents, teachers and supervisors had a local place to go and could still be back at their schools in a relatively short time. This is not a governance issue, as BloomKlein could have maintained the same geographical districts with centralized control.

Most people think the ten region concept is a mistake. But the districts were wiped out for political reasons – as a way to kill the local political machines that existed. Not a bad goal and its success has been one of the major achievements of the BloomKlein onslaught on the schools. But those political machines have been replaced with regional bureaucratic machines, which are even more oppressive. (Need I say the magic word LIS, or Local Instructional Superintendent, who may just be the most despised people in the school system?) At least the old corrupt, cronyistic machines were somewhat accessible because of their open political nature. The new corporate mentality is a closed system where people claw at each other for access to the next step above them.

  At the very bottom of this bureaucracy are the teachers, who join the parents in the total sense of powerlessness. Now, I was never one for a lot of parent control, accepting the argument that we do not want patients making the decisions in the operating room and we want professionals making decisions in the classroom. I always tried to make the case for more teacher control of schools. Parents are naturally interested mostly in the welfare of their own children and when there is a conflict between the interests of the school as a whole and their own agenda, guess which will dominate? In addition, parents leave the school environment once their children leave the school. Some teachers spend their entire careers in one school (I spent 27 years in one school – don’t remind me) and even accounting for naked self-interest, have a basic interest in working in an environment that is well-run.

So, I would argue for scrapping he C-30 process entirely and letting teachers select their supervisors. Why not let the inmates run the asylum? Nothing else seems to have worked so far.

Small schools at Far Rockaway

& Beach Channel HS

Howard Schwach’s recent Editor’s Desk column regarding the coming of small schools to local high schools touched on the controversial small school/large school debate. To make room for these schools, students at large schools like Far Rockaway are being pushed out. But where are they going? To already large overcrowded schools. Back in May I did a column on the impact of the closing of large schools created by the influx of small schools in the Bronx and the subsequent short-changing of large schools, as resources have not always been allocated equally.  I pointed to the fact that soon this movie would be coming to a neighborhood near you. And so it has.

Schwach’s editorial mentioned the impact on alumni who will no longer see their school in existence. While I sympathize with that position (Thomas Jefferson HS, my alma mater, was closed last year), the more important point is that there seems to be a plan to eliminate comprehensive neighborhood high schools, which played a positive role for so many generations. But as we can expect of the DOE, they are implementing a plan without focus or an understanding of the impact, which has resulted in severe overcrowding and dangerous conditions at the large school remaining open.

A series of meetings on the small schools/large schools issue has been held by the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a caucus in the UFT that has been critical of the position of the UFT leadership on this issue. We have found an incredible amount of interest in this debate. The last meeting in November included people representing small schools and people defending the concept of larger comprehensive schools. There was lots of heated and passionate discussion but everyone seemed to agree that the Department of Education has messed up the implementation in a big way – no long-term plan, no real short-term plan.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, has been a strong advocate of a sane policy. “What we need is an open and inclusive planning process, and better opportunities provided to all students, whether they go to a large school or small. This is why UPA and Class Size Matters are calling for the following: 1- A moratorium on putting new schools in already overcrowded school buildings.

2- An accelerated program of leasing and space acquisition, in order to provide homes for new schools in more appropriate locations.

3- Equal resources and services to be offered to all students, including smaller classes, whether they go to large schools or small.

4- Students to be given the right to go to classes in their building even if they are being offered by a different school, if their own school no longer offers the credits they need to graduate.

5- Finally, for DOE to publicly release a master plan, which will lay out in detail what the future holds for all high schools in the city, and where the overflow and transferred students will go and what programs will be provided to them, as more small schools are created and put into already existing facilities.

Haimson’s proposals are a starting point. The debate will continue and hopefully a group will emerge that can promote a sane policy in the implementation of this policy.

Kudos to Oyeleye

We received this email from a proud parent: “My son Oyeleye Odewunmi has made the Principal’s List with a 93.83 average on his report card. It was the highest average in his whole school, Middle School 180. When he was notified of his huge success he was overwhelmed with pride and joy, just like I, his mother Elizabeth Odewunmi, was. I wanted the whole community to know.”

Congratulations Oyeleye and you too Elizabeth for your pride and encouragement, both of which are key ingredients in the academic success of your child.

Far Rockaway High School

Recent reports have begun to filter in about some interesting doings at Far Rockaway High School. We will report on some of these events in future columns.

Teachers are invited to contact me at Norscot@aol.com.

Anonymity will be assured.

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