2012-01-20 / Columnists

School Scope

A Tale Of Two Rockaway School Closings: With Apologies To Charles Dickens
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott It is the best worst of times, it is the age of wisdom foolishness, it is the epoch of belief incredulity, it is the season of light darkness, it is the spring of hope winter of despair for two Rockaway schools, one public and one charter, slated for closing by the meat cleaver wielded by the hatchet bearers from the Tweed building, the HQ of the NYC Department of Education. In last week’s Wave Howie Schwach predicted, facetiously but all too close to reality, that Tweed would close every Rockaway school except for three. C’mon Howie, why leave even three standing?

The Wave’s Miriam Rosenberg and I attended a January 10 evening meeting held at the Sorrentino Rec Center called by PS 215 supporters that attracted a spirited audience of parents, teachers and Queens UFT officials. Miriam’s report in the January 13 Wave was comprehensive so I’ll address only a few points about the decision to phase out the school by Tweed.

I was struck by the case made for saving the formerly A-rated school which dropped to an F-rating last year. What happened? The teaching staff, which based on the turnout seems loaded with experienced (don’t forget this point as a factor in targeting schools for closure– higher salaried) staff has remained constant. So has the administration. With all the attention being paid to the (false) concept that the quality of the teaching is the crucial element in the success or failure of students, how can a school go from A to F with basically the same staff? What did change was the number of students needing special help while the resources needed were cut, the rise in the percentage of children getting free lunch (a poverty index) and the percentage of student turnover – an instability factor. And the cuts in staff from reading specialist, to ESL teachers, to guidance counselors. Oh, and supplies.

I found out about the meeting when I went to the school early in the morning of January 6 to distribute leaflets to parents and teachers informing them of meetings Occupy the DOE have been holding every Sunday at 2 p.m. at 60 Wall Street, focused on reaching out to schools on the closing list and public sch-ools being invaded by charter co-locations in an effort to get them to fight the battle together instead of separately.

Over the past years we have found that no matter what a school does to argue their case (and I think PS 215 has a case to be made) or how many people they bring out to a hearing held at the school, or how passionate they are at the Bloomberg controlled Panel for Educational Policy meetings, the PEP will vote against them. In the past, immediately after the vote to close takes place the spirit and militancy of the school drops to zero and a sort of school-wide depression takes hold as teachers, administrators and parents begin to think of the end-game. This is especially exasperated by the clear message from the DOE that the school will get even less in resources.

Now I don’t mean to demean the required by law PS 215 closing school hearing on Friday. January 20 at 6 p.m. (an outrage to call a hearing on a Friday night – one would hope the Jewish Orthodox community which has the right to attend would protest) as being a waste of time. These meetings serve to bring people together and take them to the next step of militancy which is at the PEP meeting at Brooklyn Tech on February 9 where the Bloomberg PEP puppets will vote to close all the schools – unless there is behind the scenes political intervention. It was nice to see the Queens PEP rep, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, at the meeting but he didn’t speak or offer any encouragement. How will he vote?

The way Queens Borough President Helen Marshal, a Bloomberg supporter, tells him to. Since his vote doesn’t mean much with Bloomberg controlling at least 8 out of 13 votes, he may very well vote to keep PS 215 open. But his votes have been very disappointing in allowing charter co-locations around the city, especially the Evil Moskowitz invasions and his practically zero presence at PEP meetings. Ahhh, don’t we wish we had a BPres with some guts to do what is right and appoint a truly independent voice on the PEP to join Manhattan’s Patrick Sullivan (who gets a big round of applause when introduced at PEP meetings).

A representative from Gregory Meeks’ office was also present and he refused to respond when I asked him if Meeks would support PS 215.

The UFT was in the house at that meeting with a passionate (and long) speech by Queens political director Dermot Smyth who gave people hope that with a big January 20 turnout that would give Tweed an earful, they could save the school. When I asked him if the UFT would provide buses to the PEP at Brooklyn Tech on February 9 he made it seem that the school could be saved by a big turnout on January 20. I understand the need to keep people motivated but the failure of the tactic of fighting that battle one school at a time should be clear by now.

With 25 schools on the list added to the threat to close 33 more on June 30 and reopen them on July 1 while removing at least 50 percent of the teachers and a new unreported list of about 60 PLA (Persistently Low Achieving) schools targeted, this amounts to a total assault on the union and the public school system while shutting out the parents, students and community from any basic decision-making about their own fates. The ed deformers at the national, state and local levels have successfully managed to make it all about the (bad) teacher as a distraction from the real issue: the increasing privatization of the public schools through charterization.

Given that, it might seem like a contradiction for the DOE to close Peninsula Prep Academy, a charter in Rockaway that does not seem to be a failure with three C ratings in a row. People do graduate with C grades. I have mixed feelings, given my opposition to charters, but the closing of PPA seems unfair. I met with Josmar Trujilo, an articulate and passionate parent advocate at PPA, and he makes a very convincing case (see my video interview with him on you tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03- XBo3a7-U), pointing out that PPA has higher ratings than 9 out of 10 zoned Rockaway schools.

While I don’t put much stock in these numbers, I do think that the ties of Malcolm Smith, the school’s founder, and Gregory Meeks, who served on the Board, has hurt the school due to the problems they have faced. I wrote an analysis on my blog that argued that the closing of PPA is a political hit job (http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/201 2/01/why-peninsula-prep-is-closingwhat. html), possibly because there may be bad news coming from the Smith/Meeks investigations and Walcott, who is from Southeastern Queens, wants to get out from under sooner rather than later.

Norm blogs at ednotesonline.blog spot.com, email: normsco@gmail.com.

If you want to know more about the fight to save PPA you can reach Josmar through the school.

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