2012-01-27 / Top Stories

Tensions Run High At PS 215 Meeting

By Miriam Rosenberg


School staff and parents carry signs to let the mayor know what they think of how he runs the city’s schools. School staff and parents carry signs to let the mayor know what they think of how he runs the city’s schools. Tensions ran high last week as parents attended a meeting about the proposed phase out of PS 215 hosted by the Department of Education at the school in Far Rockaway.

Reading from a prepared statement Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott explained the reasons for the phase-out.

“We must hold all of our schools to the same quality of excellence because every child in every city [sic] in this city deserves the best possible education,” said Walcott. “When the school isn’t getting the job done we have to take action to assure students don’t fall further behind and the new students will have better options.”

The chancellor said that the school was in the bottom nine percent of city elementary schools when it came to learning growth in English and the bottom 19 percent in learning growth in Math. “Based on a comprehensive review and the evidence that additional supports were not working the DOE believes that only the most serious intervention, the eventual phase-out and closure of the school, will address its long standing performance struggles and allow new school options to develop to better serve future students and the broader community.”


A parent tries to get answers from Chancellor Dennis Walcott during the Q & A period of the meeting. A parent tries to get answers from Chancellor Dennis Walcott during the Q & A period of the meeting. While that was the official view of the DOE, parents and their representatives were not buying it.

Coralanne Griffth-Hunte, the president of the Community Education Council for District 27, told parents the CEC backs them.

“If the school is not working then change the administration,” said Griffth-Hunte. “If the school is not working then figure out what’s going on with the teachers. Maybe it’s the curriculum.” To loud applause she added, “What we have begun to do is to make children learn to pass state exams. … We are demanding that our children receive the right to learn and to learn properly.”

Donna Hamlet of the School Leadership Team and a PA president asked Walcott why the administration would be left in PS 215 during the phase-out if the school has failed for the last three years? Why put in another school instead of another principal?

While not directly answering Hamlet, Walcott tried to answer the questions.

“We are not responding to what the future will hold in terms of any administration and any phase-out school,” said Walcott. “It’s just the process that we entail for phasing out schools in general. …. So we do a gradual phase-out of the grades and an inclusion of new grades in the new school. We build up and then phase down. We don’t want to totally disrupt the school in that regard.” He added that “most schools that phase in perform or out perform better than the schools that phased out.” Tara Alameda, who graduated from PS 215 and is now doing an internship at the school, said, “It’s the resources being taken away from us …. People need to stop pointing fingers at certain staff and look at the above people that took away the finances for this school.”

Sharon Grant Fordham has lived in the neighborhood for almost 35 years. In the 1980s two of her children attended the school and currently her grandson is a student there. “I strongly urge the DOE to stop the clock on the closing of 215,” said Fordham. “Schools do not fail by themselves. They fail when resources are syphoned off to pet projects. And who ultimately fail – our students.”

Tony Sahadeo’s son Suraji, 12, attended PS 215 from pre-K through fifth grade. “The teachers are phenomenal,” said Sahadeo, who has been a resident since 1973. “It’s not the teachers that changed; it’s the administration that changed. If they’re given the tools and given the equipment I’m pretty sure we can do much better than having a low grade.” Surjai Sahadeo said, “All the teachers were helpful and helped me with every subject as a kid.” He added, “it deserves an A+ because all the teachers are helpful and helped every student with the state tests.”

Ed Williams, the president of the local NAACP, said, “Over the last four years the school has gone from an A to an F. The staff is still here …. There’s no indication that anything was done to save the school.”

PS 215 graduate, current college student and aunt to two students at the school, Carolina Mayaga, said, “Why do you need to close the school down? We don’t have any money for these children to get their education. … We need more programs. These kids need a better future for this community …. There’s no point to this. … We need more money for these schools.” Walcott did attempt to explain how schools are funded through the Fair Student Funding Formula, saying it is up to each principal to determine how the money is spent.

The Chancellor would not answer questions as to whether he was putting the blame for the cuts at the school on the principal.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the phase-out proposal on February 9 at 6:00 p.m. at Brooklyn Technical High School, located at 29 Fort Greene Place in Brooklyn.

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