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Community Left Out of School Closure Process

November 16, 2010

The NYC Department of Education has added 8 new high schools to the list of potentially closing schools, bringing the grand total to 55 schools – more than half the number of schools that the DOE has closed since 2003. If all of these schools close, it will bring the grand total of schools the DOE has closed to 146, which is about the number of schools in the entire city of Boston. Do you think this list will continue to grow?

  1. Urban Assembly Academy for History and Citizenship for Young Men (District 9)
  2. Herbert Lehman HS (District 8 )
  3. Performance Conservatory HS (District 12)
  4. University Neighborhood HS (District 1)
  5. Legacy School for Integrated Studies (District 2)
  6. Bosy and Girls HS (District 16)
  7. Washington Irving HS (District 2)
  8. Gompers Career and Tech HS (District 7)

by Anna Schwartz

When the New York City Department of Education announced this year that there are 47 schools across the city at risk of closing, they declared that there would be more community involvement than in previous years. A recent New York Times article explained that the DOE would hold at least four meetings at each school and that parents, staff and community members would have the opportunity to “object if they feel that part or all of the school should be preserved” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/nyregion/29closings.html ).

Here in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, the DOE’s effort to involve the community of JHS 302, which is on the list for possible closure, has been token at best. When our community organization, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) contacted the District 19 liaison on this issue, she told us that the four meetings had actually already happened even though most community members and parents hadn’t heard about it. There was no public announcement of these meetings and very little advance notification. At IS 302, the four meetings happened in a week – one was with the principal, one with the School Leadership Team (SLT), one with parents, and one with teachers. At 302, the SLT was given one day notice of their meeting with the superintendent.

We heard from parents that the superintendent wrote a letter to IS 302 parents to invite them to a meeting about the school. However, there was no mention of possible closure or the other four options that the DOE might take in regards to the school. The letters did not explain the importance of the meeting. This letter was sent out a week before the meeting. When parents arrived, they were kept waiting an hour and a half. About 20 parents met with the superintendent, while others had to leave before the meeting took place. When the meeting finally took place, the superintendent announced the possible closure, asked parents to write down concerns on paper and give them to her, and then said she had to leave. There was no discussion and parents were not given the opportunity to express their opinions. One parent reported that when parents asked questions, they were told by the superintendent that she couldn’t answer them because she is “only the interim superintendent”.

CHLDC has been involved in the community for decades, and is the home base for Cypress Hills Advocates for Education (CHAFE), a group of parents and residents that works to improve local public schools. The work of CHAFE and CHLDC created a new public school for the community with a brand new building that just opened this year. However, groups such as ours that are central in the community – along with IS 302 parents and other community members – are still totally in the dark about the future or our school.

It has also become clear that the DOE is only opening this process up to the public under very limited circumstances. Gentian Falstrom from the DOE explained that they would only make an official proposal with public comment and PEP vote if they planned to phase out the school or re-configure the grades. If they planned to remove leadership, fire 50% of staff or change curriculum/program, there would be no official proposal, public comment or PEP vote – even though these are huge decisions that would impact the school and the community.

Parents, students, staff and community members are not being fully included and listened to in this process. At a meeting last Friday at IS 302, hundreds of people turned out to express their support for the school and their desire to FIX it, not CLOSE it. Now if only the DOE would listen….

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