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Small school resists meeting the fate of a larger one it replaced

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the success of the small schools opened during his tenure in his State of the City address, families and staff from one of them were preparing to fight the city’s closure plan.

The Department of Education opened Middle School for the Arts, or M.S. 587, in 2004 to replace M.S. 391, a much larger school that was persistently low-performing.

But the Crown Heights school never fulfilled its promise. Last year, only 13 percent of the 334 students met state proficiency standards in reading, and only 11 percent were proficient in math. In December, the city proposed to close the school.

That proposal drew about 40 students, parents and staff members to speak out at a public hearing in the school’s auditorium Thursday evening. They said the school’s low test scores do not accurately capture what happens there and argued that replacing the school again would not solve its problems.

The hearing kicked off a three-week sprint of hearings the city has scheduled at each of the 25 schools it proposes to close or shrink this year, 11 of them middle schools. More hearings could be added to the docket if a plan Bloomberg announced in his speech — to close 33 struggling schools, at least in name, in order to retain federal funds — moves forward.

Teachers defended the school‘s grim academic track record to department officials and parents on the Community Education Council for District 17.

“I’m a passionate teacher. I’m always here. I know that the students who sit in front of me every day need extra, extra, extra, extra support,” said Andrea Patrello, a sixth-grade math teacher who has been at the school for four years. “I was brought up with the mentality don’t give up. To me, the whole solution of phasing out schools is giving up.”

Richard Thomas, a social studies teacher and the chair of the School Leadership Team, said one reason the school isn’t meeting performance benchmarks is that the students have behavioral problems and gang affiliations that make them more difficult to teach.

“This is a case where statistics don’t tell the whole story. What we have here is one size fits all, irrespective of the makeup of the student population,” he said. “Before you can start teaching students you have to deal with so many multiple issues.”

A parent, Ama Willock, said her son enrolled in the middle school this year because of his passion in the performing arts. If the closure is approved next month by the Panel for Education Policy, which has never rejected a city proposal, Willock’s son would be in the school’s last class.

Willock said the department’s assessment of the school’s performance was correct. But she disputed its claims that opening a new school in its place would solve the problems Middle School of the Arts has faced.

“I’m not here to support a failing school,” she said. “But changing the name on the school is not going to help.”

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