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Political divide still entrenched as PEP shutters more schools

At Monday night’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, there was a single moment of consensus: All of the panel members voted to support the proposed location for Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem.

But for the rest of the meeting, as expected, the panel members split along the same lines that have divided them for years, and came to the same conclusions. Mayor Bloomberg’s seven appointees backed all of the 52 other proposals to close, open, and move schools, while four members appointed by borough presidents voted against them.

The divide held when the panel considered a resolution to support a moratorium on school closures and co-locations. The resolution was brought by panel members appointed by the borough presidents: Patrick Sullivan from Manhattan; Kevin Diamond, representing Brooklyn; Robert Powell of the Bronx; and Dmytro Fedkowskyj of Queens, who called the agenda of proposals “excessive and out of control.”

“This process is divisive, destructive and demoralizing for our principals and teachers,” Fedkowskyj said. “I believe other options exist and so do my colleagues.”

Mayoral candidate and former city comptroller Bill Thompson spoke in favor of the resolution at a press conference outside the school before the meeting, as well as during the public comment section. He called for “a comprehensive review of public schools before they’re closed.”

“If this policy continues, more than 65,000 students … would have their school experience marked by school closure,” he said during the meeting. “This is not a political matter and our children and families simply cannot wait for the next administration. We need a freeze on school closures and we need it now.”

Among the plans that the panel approved were four that will begin in 2014 or 2015, when Bloomberg will no longer be in office.

In the public comment section, many teachers spoke about their personal experiences with school closures.

“I’m living this process, we’re in phase out, and I’m here to tell you that it’s horrible for students, horrible for parents, horrible for teachers, and horrible for the school community,” said James Eterno, the teachers union chapter leader of Jamaica High School, which the city decided to close in 2011 and will cease to exist next year.

(Photo slideshow by Nell Gluckman)

Diamond also made the case for better community engagement before any decisions are made. “Parents do not seem to be represented when it comes to the closing of the schools because when the decisions are being made they are not transparent so that parents can understand what is going on,” he told the panel. “We need to gain a better trust with parents.”

When Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg of the Department of Education urged the panel to vote “no” to the moratorium, audience members began shouting over him for a full two minutes, chanting “They say shut down, we say fight back.”

The moratorium resolution was voted down 8 to 3, with one abstention.

Most members of the audience had less to say about city policy than about the city’s proposals to close or change their schools. Seventy people signed up to speak during a public comment period, including members of the elected parent councils from districts across the city.

Some such as the parents from P.S. 167, a school slated to be phased out, had brought banners. Others heckled panel members appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, chanting slogans such as “Shame on you” and “Bloomberg’s puppet” when the panel members tried to speak. And members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a dissident caucus within the United Federation of Teachers, were fresh off a demonstration they had staged outside the school before the meeting began.

Hope Rodriguez, mother of a student in the Performance School, which was on the chopping block, voiced concern about the effect of the changes on high-needs students. “Children need this consistency,” she said. “Some of the children live in shelters and the one thing they can count on is seeing the principal everyday, seeing their teachers and friends everyday, and you’re proposing to take this away from them.”

Students from J.H.S. 292 Margaret S. Douglas and P.S. 167 The Parkway, both in Brooklyn, stayed until 9.30 p.m. to have their say. The 14 students from J.H.S. 292 who spoke eloquently on behalf of their school were adamant that bringing in the middle school grades of the struggling UFT Charter School, whose elementary grades are already sharing space with their school, would hurt their learning.

“Do you really want a top-rated school combining with a failing school? That’s not fair to me and the other students,” said Lance White, an eighth-grader from J.H.S. 292. “I don’t think the young children will be able to learn and be productive in an overcrowded environment.”

At one point, Walcott left the stage to stand at the microphone where the students were speaking to hear more of what they were saying and get copies of their speeches.

Many students said they worried about losing the performing arts programs they loved at the school: African drumming, photography, and the Soul Tigers marching band.

“There is a dynamic of loss in these buildings, but we think that we know from so many examples across the city that it can work,” said Sternberg, the deputy chancellor. “And in return for the small sacrifice, we can provide families with much greater choice.”

A few speakers supported the co-location proposals. Parents backing Achievement First Apollo Charter School and Achievement First Charter High School 2 said the move would increase school choice in those Brooklyn neighborhoods. “Every parent should have the choice to select a great school for their children,” said Mery Melendez, a parent and member of Families for Excellent Schools, a group that organizes charter school parents to support policies that are friendly to the schools.

When the Panel for Educational Policy started its meeting to vote on school closure proposals at 6 p.m. Monday, the large auditorium at Brooklyn Technical High School was filled with hundreds of people, and the atmosphere was rowdy.

The meeting began at 6 p.m. with a packed auditorium and raucous crowd, but by the time the panel began voting on proposals about individual schools, it was 12:45 a.m. and the number of people in the audience had dwindled to around 40. The meeting ended at 1:10 a.m. The panel will reconvene next week to consider another set of school use proposals, but not additional closures.

These schools will be phased out:
M.S 203, Bronx
Performance School, Bronx
P.S. 64 Pura Belpre, Bronx
P.S. 230 Dr. Roland N. Patterson, Bronx
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications, Bronx
M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
P.S. 50 Clara Barton, Bronx
P.S. 167 The Parkway, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn
P.S. 174 Dumont, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero School, Brooklyn
Sheepshead Bay High School, Brooklyn
P.S. 73 Thomas S. Boyland, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, Brooklyn
High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Manhattan
J.H.S. 13 Jackie Robinson, Manhattan
Choir Academy of Harlem, Manhattan
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School, Manhattan
Law, Government and Community Service High School, Queens
Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship High School, Queens

These schools will be closed:
Freedom Academy High School, Brooklyn
M.S. 45 / S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy, Manhattan

These co-locations will move forward:
Success Academy Charter School – Bronx 1 (expansion, beginning 2014) in M.S. 203’s building, Bronx
New high school 07X259 in Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School’s building, Bronx
New elementary school 07X359 and new site of a District 75 program in Performance School’s building, Bronx
Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls Charter School (expansion) in Performance School’s building, Bronx
New high schools 08X320, 08X348, 08X349 in Herbert H. Lehman High School’s building, Bronx
New elementary schools 09X294 and 09X311 in P.S. 64 Pura Belpre’s building, Bronx
New elementary school 09X274 in I.S. 229 Roland Patterson’s building, Bronx
New secondary school 09X350 at the William H. Taft Educational Campus, Bronx
New high school 10X264 in Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School’s building, Bronx
New high schools 10X351 and 10X353 in DeWitt Clinton High School’s building, Bronx
New middle school 11X355 in M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa’s building
New elementary School 12X314 in P.S. 50 Clara Barton’s building, Bronx
Achievement First Charter High School 2 and New middle school 19K654 in J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin’s building, Brooklyn
The UFT Charter School (re-siting of middle school grades) in J.H.S. 292 Margaret S. Douglas’ building, Brooklyn
New elementary school 19K557 and new middle school 19K663 in P.S. 174 Dumont’s building, Brooklyn
New district middle schools 19K661 and 19K662 in J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero’s building, Brooklyn
Achievement First Apollo Charter School (expansion) in J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero’s building, Brooklyn
New district high school 22K611 and new transfer school 22K630 in Sheepshead Bay High School’s building, Brooklyn
New Visions Charter High School for Applied Math and Science III and New Visions Charter High school for the Humanities III in Sheepshead Bay High School’s building, Brooklyn
New elementary school 23K559 and New middle school 23K664 in P.S. 73 Thomas S. Boyland’s building, Brooklyn
New middle school 23K668 in Chappie schools’ building, Brooklyn
New Public Charter School Math, Engineering, and Science Academy in J.H.S. 291 Roland Hayes’ building, Brooklyn
New high school 02M139 in Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers’ building, Manhattan
New district high school 02M135 (from 2015) at the Graphics Educational Campus, Manhattan
Success Academy Charter School – Manhattan Middle School (from 2015) at the Graphics Educational Campus, Manhattan
Harlem Village Academy Leadership Charter School (expansion, from 2015) at M.S. 45 / S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy’s building, Manhattan (M.S. 45 / S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy will close at end of 2012-2013 school year)
Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem at Mott Hall High School’s Buliding, Manhattan
New high school 24Q236 in Newtown High School’s building, Queens
New high schools 25Q240 and 25Q241 in Flushing High School’s building, Queens
New high school 29Q243 at the Campus Magnet High School Building, Queens

Nell Gluckman and Carey Reed also contributed to this story.

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