2013-03-08 / Columnists

School Scope

The Distributive Law
By Norm Scott

Some people ask why I am so pissed at the UFT’s Unity Caucus which has run the union since 1960. Among many reasons: if the UFT had taken an early stand against the assault on neighborhood schools by closing them down- at all levels, but in particular the high schools, there was a chance to have undermined the education deform “everyone needs choice more than one quality local school” leading to closing/opening/ closing/multiple schools in a building. Attending the Sheepshead Bay High School closing hearing on February 20th reinforced my reaction. I said this to the UFT Brooklyn Borough Rep as I handed him a leaflet with good talking points about how closing ANY school is bad policy. If the UFT had been able to look ahead - like so many progressive people were able to do (The Wave from as far back as when Far Rock was closed) - well, that’s spilt milk. The UFT prefers to forget history.

Out of schools on a regular basis for eight years, I break into a cold sweat walking into one. The UFT election campaign forces me to visit schools to put MORE election materials in mailboxes, which the DOE allows us to do. I begin at the K-8 school on my corner: DENIED, despite showing the Assistant Principal a permission letter. “I’ll ask the chapter leader to do it,” she said. I explain there are different caucuses in the union and the CL might not be interested, especially if a member of Unity Caucus. Then: “I’ll have a school aide do it.” I explain the DOE doesn’t want employees being used, which is why we have permission. Still NO. “I’ll have Tweed give you a call and I’ll be back,” using my best Arnold voice. And I will.

On to Beach Channel campus with four or five schools (I lose count). Roam through one of these institutions and get a picture of the failure of the Bloomberg “multiple-schools-in-one building” policy. At the metal detectors I run into a MORE supporter, one of 19 teachers left at Beach Channel. He does his mailboxes. Now to find the other schools. People don’t seem to know how many schools in the building or where they are. Islands in the stream. Loads of security people sitting in hallways – schools protecting themselves against the others? BCHS campus, a sprawling three story building, used to be chock full of activities all over the place, full of life, as all comprehensive high schools used to be. Now? The overall bustle seems missing, except for the pockets each school occupies. Every single person I meet is extremely cooperative and friendly and kids seem nice.

I talk to a secretary (each school has one or two). We know many people in common and did the Sandy personal recap. When a school like BCHS had 10-12 secretaries there was a division of labor. Now in each school enormous work falls on a few, multiplied by five schools. Imagine: paying four or five principals, APs, secretaries with who knows how much duplication of work? Bloomberg, a great business manager? Just as Ma Bell was broken up and recombined into basically two companies today, one day all these fragmented schools will start merging or absorbing each other. Makes good business sense. The Bloomberg era is about politics, no education, and in the long run, not about good business sense.

Then, on to the local 6-12 school across the street, competing on different grades with the high schools at BCHS, and the K-8 school a mile away. One of the BCHS schools opened a few years ago, was flying high but suffers as the nearby 6-12 school draws some top students. Imagine: four or five high schools within 300 feet of each other. Of course this hard-to-get-into 6-12 school can’t take all kids, so there have to be other schools that will be forced to. Thus, the reinforcement of a dual school system – for both students and teachers – think of the different conditions teachers and students face in the schools with different populations just down the hall or across the street. How crazy is this?

Then off to another elementary school building with two elementary schools on different floors. Am I dreaming or in the midst of a nightmare? The former neighborhood school in that building was closed down — twice in a five year period with mostly new teachers each time. I remember going there with leaflets in January 2009 when the school was being closed/phased out for the second time. Really, someone ought to do a book. If there are any real investigative ed reporters left in town, an expose on this entire sham awaits.

Rockaway could be the laboratory.

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