Banana Kelly’s Principal Says Goodbye
Tonight, the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on contracts for six Educational Partnership Organizations to take over a group of low-performing schools through the federal “restart” model. One of the restart schools is Banana Kelly High School, which EdVox wrote about last May. Banana Kelly High School is a small high school in the Bronx that seemed to have been set up to fail by the NYC Department of Education (DOE) which assigned rising populations of the highest-needs students and an increasing enrollment to Banana Kelly, yet allocated the school a declining budget. This year, the school was placed on NY State’s list of Persistently Lowest-Achieving schools.
Founded in the 1990s and initially led by former DOE Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras, Banana Kelly has had a reputation as a school with strong roots in the community and a commitment not to give up on any student. In 2006, Inside Schools reported that Banana Kelly “is situated in a neighborhood known for gang activity, but has managed to create a safe, nurturing environment where the emphasis is on learning….Banana Kelly has also become very popular, with 2,000 applications yearly for only 90 seats.” That report also noted the dedication of the teachers and principal, who often stayed late on their own time and provided hands-on support to students. In 2007, Banana Kelly was identified in an Annenberg Institute for School Reform report as one of 13 NYC high schools that “beat the odds” by producing strong graduation rates with large populations of the highest-needs students. In recent years, the school has partnered with numerous community organizations to bring additional resources to the students, including a health clinic that opened inside the school just a few months ago.
In recent years, the school has been challenged by an influx of academically unprepared students, as well as large percentages of homeless students, English Language Learners and students in special education. Banana Kelly’s building lacks a science lab, gymnasium and school kitchen. And in the last few years, the school has lost about half a million dollars in budget cuts.
This month, Banana Kelly principal Joshua Laub, a graduate of Bank Street College who has been at the school for twelve years, resigned from the school, and sent this letter explaining his decision.
Dear Faculty, Staff and Friends of Banana Kelly,
It is with a heavy heart that I announce my decision to resign as principal of Banana Kelly High School.
This decision has been a very difficult one as Banana Kelly has been an integral part of my life for the past 12 years.
The Banana Kelly team, students, faculty and community partners have been an inspiration and my greatest teachers. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done together and all that we have accomplished. What I am most proud of is that we have created a school community that is willing to take sides and the side we have taken is the side of children.
This team has made tremendous sacrifices to stake out that ground and insure what we do is in service of children. People here stay late, work long after hours on a regular basis and have devoted tremendous energy to building a learning platform for children who are otherwise often pushed out, discarded or ignored.
Many of you recognize that our current educational system is not designed to support these children nor the educators who work with them. Yet you have chosen this noble profession and the South Bronx as your venue. Your efforts, energy and intellectual contributions are nothing less than heroic and I am very proud of all that we have accomplished.
The past few years have been extremely difficult, filled with new policy mandates in programming and accountability and changes in our student population. These came without the bare bones minimums in the extra resources and faculty that we and so many other schools serving poorer communities clamor for. In spite of this, we did not blame the children, who are some of the neediest in the city. We rolled up our sleeves and did the work that was required – supporting students as best we could – academically and emotionally. And we continued to build important partnerships, such as Elevate, Build-On and HS Squared. Students spoke out on behalf of our school and the community continues to support us.
In the face of the urgent needs of schools in the city’s poorer communities our educational system chose to create a mix, or portfolio of charter schools, schools for the gifted and talented, exam schools and others that screen out the neediest students, the ones most in need of help.
That ‘creaming’ strategy created and continues to create a greater number of schools for students who are already doing well. But the ‘portfolio of schools’ strategy fails to provide the additional resources, personnel and commitment, needed for poorer schools in underserved communities, such as ours in the South Bronx. Although Banana Kelly was able to do well for most of the past 12 years, we were consistently denied the resources and expertise required to make substantial academic and social gains with the children assigned to our care
In fact the strategy had allowed and even encouraged the racial re-segregation of NYC schools and revived, in practice, the failed and illegal doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ struck down decades ago by the US Supreme Court.
This past year Banana Kelly found itself in an increasingly difficult position. In seeking to meet the arbitrary and unreasonable targets set out by Federal standards, the new policy mandates coming from NY State did not account for all the progress our students have made and for the many factors outside of school that contributed to their difficulties but are consistently ignored by policy makers. In December of 2010 Banana Kelly joined a list of schools deemed Persistently Low Achieving.
We have continued to struggle and strengthen our collective energies to keep the school intact and the kids ready for graduation.
When I joined the Banana Kelly family, I believed we were going to change education. Today I am more committed than ever to the need for real change, particularly for schools that serve children like ours. However, I am not optimistic about the prospects of the current system leading that change.
I will miss you all and this place greatly. Thank you for your support throughout the years, particularly during these most recent months.
With much love and many regrets,