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The principal of a school newly slated for closure speaks out

Just hours after learning that Chappie D. James Elementary School of Science would be phased out, Principal Margaret McAuley publicly registered her concerns about the process that had brought the school to the point of closure.

McAuley testified Thursday evening at a meeting of the Citywide Council on Special Education, an elected parent group, which had been set aside to discuss closures well before the city announced yesterday that it would shutter 12 schools.

After the Department of Education’s director of engagement strategy, Meg Barboza, narrated a PowerPoint presentation about the city’s closure strategy, fielding challenges from council members along the way, McAuley took the microphone.

As music from a principals union event wafted into the second-floor meeting room at Brooklyn Borough Hall, McAuley described her efforts to serve students at her Brownsville school, which she started in 2008 after a previous school in the building had been closed because of poor performance. She said she had chased down resources and partnerships, sought out extra training for teachers, brought in computers and programming for parents, and put new expectations in place for students.

McAuley said she wasn’t surprised by the school’s first progress report grade last year, a D — scores remained very low. But she said they were improving, slowly but surely and unfortunately not in a way that this year’s report card grade, an F, could capture.

Most of all, she said, she hadn’t been informed that her school’s performance wasn’t up to par until October, when the city added it to the shortlist of potential closures.

“Has anyone from the DOE ever come in and said good job, bad job, or go and get another job?” asked Ellen McHugh, a CCSE member.

“No,” McAuley answered. She said had gotten support from her network, which she contracted after working with its founder, Kathleen Cashin, to develop the school. But before mid-October, when DOE officials scheduled “early engagement” meetings at the school, she said hadn’t heard anything from officials from the DOE’s accountability office.

McAuley declined to speak with me after her testimony. But a small group of parents from her school said they wanted to ramp up their protests against the city’s closure policy.

Tosha Wheeler, who has children at McAuley’s school and its partner middle school, which escaped closure, told me she was devastated by the news that the elementary school had been picked to close and wanted to marshal parents to protest the proposal. The Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the closure plans in February.

Fiorella Guevara, an organizer with the Coalition for Educational Justice who has been working with parents at five struggling schools, said Wheeler hoped to spearhead a broad protest after rallies at each school appeared to have little impact on the DOE’s decision-making.

“They’re almost ready to go the civil disobedience route,” Guevara said.

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