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City officials confront blame for a Brooklyn school’s fall

City officials came the closest they’ve gotten to acknowledging the Department of Education’s role in a Brooklyn school’s problems on Friday when a deputy chancellor said he was aware that teachers and parents feel abandoned.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky spoke at P.S. 114 — a Canarsie elementary school the city hopes to phase out next year — after more than two hours of parents and teachers testifying that the DOE ignored the school’s problems. Though they’d petitioned the city to remove a principal who overspent her budget by $180,000 and was hiring unnecessary staff, Maria Pena-Herrera wasn’t forced out until 2008. Now, the school owes the city thousands of dollars and has seen its students’ test scores plummet in the last year.

Polakow-Suransky responded to the outpouring of anger by telling parents that the city hasn’t made a final recommendation to close or keep P.S. 114 open. 

“I want to recognize the fact that in the view of the faculty of the school, and in the view of many of the parents, that we haven’t done what we needed to do to support you,” Polakow-Suransky said. “And that came through loud and clear. And I think that I want to be clear with you that we do see this school as our responsibility, five years ago, three years ago, and today.”

His comment suggested that the city could change its mind before the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the school’s closure this Thursday. Last year, officials decided to save Alfred Smith High School’s automotive program shortly before the panel was to vote on its closure.

But many in attendance said they believed the city had sentenced the school to failure years ago when allowed the principal to rack up debts.

“This school lost Project Read, Project Math, lost its gifted program, lost two guidance counselors, lost half of its gym teachers, lost dozens of other things, because of the mismanagement of the principal you sent here,” said City Councilman Lew Fidler. “And it’s not like the teachers and the parents didn’t tell you so.”

Teachers said that, for years, they essentially ran the school on their own and often didn’t know where the principal was.

Angela Best, the parent of a P.S. 114 fifth grader and a second grader said she didn’t know what she’d do if the school closes. Her daughter in second grade will be eligible to enter the lottery for Explore Excel Charter School, which will open in the building next year.

“I’ve been here for nine years and my kids have succeeded,” she said. “They should give P.S. 114 the money they’re spending to open the charter school.”