We Need School Improvements, Not Just School Closures
by Reina Foster
Reina Foster is a parent of three students at PS 332 in Brownsville, Brooklyn and one student at W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in East New York, Brooklyn. She is a member of New York Communities for Change.
I have the unique and unfortunate experience of having children in two schools that the Department of Education tried to shut down last year. These schools are in Brownsville and East New York, two of the lowest-income neighborhoods in the United States. The percentage of students living below the poverty line would rival any of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Although this might seem like a coincidence, I do not believe that it is an accident. The DOE is targeting low-income neighborhoods for their experimental programs and shutting down our neighborhood schools in their so-called “reform” efforts.
Last year, hundreds of parents rallied at PS 332 and at Maxwell to stop their shutdowns. A lawsuit was filed, and the schools were kept open. This was the perfect opportunity for the DOE to step in and say: “We are going to do whatever it takes to makes sure this is a successful school.” But, quite the opposite happened. The DOE discouraged enrollment in both places and has, frankly, been a no-show in terms of helping out our school this year. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would almost think the DOE wanted these schools to fail.
PS 332 faces a lot of challenges. 17% of the students at our school live in shelters, compared to only 5% in the average NYC school. Also 19% of our students are in special education, more than twice the citywide average of 9%. Our class size is up to 40 students per class, and almost a quarter of our core academic classes are not taught by highly qualified teachers – compared to only 6% at the average school. On top of all this, PS 332 still lacks an after-school program, and our principal retired mid-year, putting the school in another tailspin. How could any school provide a top quality education in these circumstances without lots of extra help from the DOE? But I have yet to see a plan from the DOE on how we can improve our student achievement and really bring about the changes we need in our school. There is no question why we have ended up on the closure list again…complete negligence on the part of the DOE.
Alternatively, Maxwell was spared from this year’s closure list. I wish I could say that this was due to the intense efforts the DOE instituted to improve the school. But, again the DOE was missing on the spot. Thankfully, our hardworking staff pulled together and fought tooth-and-nail to get it right. Our principal has only been in the school two years, but each year the school has gotten better. The teachers and staff have met regularly to develop challenging and quality curriculum to make sure that students are ready to graduate and pass the regents. The school has engaged parents in the day-to-day operations of the school and results are being seen.
The DOE could learn a lot from the staff and administration at Maxwell. A quality school needs great leadership, challenging and engaging curriculum and parental involvement. Unfortunately at PS 332 the DOE did not provide any of those things this year, and we find ourselves again in same position as last year – without a plan or supports to help our kids.