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Calls for Brooklyn's P.S. 19 to stay open despite abysmal scores

At the first school closure hearing of the year last week, students and parents said their school’s youth was a reason to give it another chance. On Wednesday night, families and staff at Brooklyn’s P.S. 19, the Roberto Clemente school, appealed to decades of existence as a reason the school should stay open.

“This has been a school that has been called Roberto Clemente for many, many many years.” said Barbara Medina, who attended the school in the 1970s and sent her son to it in the 1990s. “The name should carry on.”

P.S. 19, located in Williamsburg, was the lowest-scoring elementary school on the city’s progress reports this year. Families have spurned the school in droves in recent years, causing enrollment to drop to about 350 from more than 1,200 a decade ago.

Yet about 100 people turned out to protest the city’s plan to close the school, which the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on next month. They said more could have been done to prevent the school from dropping from a B grade in 2009 to an F this year and to soften the impact of the enrollment drop.

“Every year since 2008 we’ve lost four to six teachers,” said Patricia Tambakis, a 27-year veteran of the school who is its union chapter leader. “We have no math teacher, we have no literacy teacher, we have no music teacher, we have no science teacher. We have no librarian. We have no academic intervention teachers. How are we supposed to pass when they’re setting us up for failure?”

Dorita Gibson, a Department of Education deputy chancellor, said the department had offered principal and teacher trainings and other resources over the last year aimed at boosting the school’s academic performance. But she said the city decided the school should be closed after seeing that those supports had not led to test score gains.

The idea that struggling schools could thrive with more support has been a prominent theme in this year’s school closure debate. But some of the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing suggested that P.S. 19 would do better with less involvement from the city.

“You know what, the school ended up worse than it had before the DOE came in and intervened, okay?” said Elaine Manatu, a member of District 14’s elected parent council. “So instead of pointing to P.S. 19 to talk about what hasn’t worked in P.S. 19, DOE needs to look at themselves, and look at the fact that they have failed this school and they have failed these kids.”

Parents and graduates said they understand that the school has serious shortcomings. But they said closure would do away with its assets, too.

Walkiria Gonzalez said the school’s friendly staff allayed her concerns about her daughter’s safety when she moved to Williamsburg this year.

“There is nothing better for a parent [to be] at peace knowing that your child is safe, okay, and this school has that. I’m not ignored when I walk through that door,” said Walkiria Gonzalez, who moved to Williamsburg this year and enrolled her daughter in P.S. 19’s second grade.

“I have no complaints of the school,” she said. “Instead of you bringing in a new school, why don’t you help what’s happening here? This school needs help, but the teachers are wonderful, I can vouch for that.”

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