one year later

New York

Education activists still feel Occupy's effects, for better or worse

Occupy the DOE protesters stsop at Tweed Courthouse on their way to a larger Occupy rally in November 2011. A year ago, Brian Jones and other education activists crowded into a standing-room-only auditorium where city Department of Education officials were supposed to present new curriculum standards to parents. Just moments after Chancellor Dennis Walcott began to deliver his opening remarks one member of the crowd stood up. “Mic check,” he called out. So began the first offensive of Occupy the DOE, an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement intended to wrest authority over the city’s schools out of the hands of the “1 percent” and into the “99 percent” of education stakeholders who are teachers, families, and students. Minutes after the first interruption, Walcott and the other officials called off the meeting, retreating to smaller sessions in other parts of the building. Supporters of the movement hailed the disruption as a victory and would soon stage protests at meetings througout the winter. But the demographic profile of the activists and their raucous tactics also alienated groups that had similar gripes about the city's education policies. A year later, the broader Occupy movement is in disarray, but the Department of Education is largely unchanged. Walcott remains in charge, mayoral control is still in place, and tests geared to the new standards are in development. But even though Occupy the DOE’s website has not been updated since May, activists say that, for better or worse, the movement has had a lasting impact on education advocacy in the city.

one year later

New York

Détente at Park Slope’s John Jay Campus, but no sea change

Wesley Weissberg has poured hours into Park Slope's public schools, even serving as PTA president at the neighborhood's popular elementary school, P.S. 321. But until this year, she hadn't even considered trying to help the neighborhood's only high schools. Housed in the John Jay Campus at the heart of Park Slope's main shopping street, the high schools have never drawn many students from within the neighborhood's brownstone-lined borders. Students who graduated from local middle schools mostly headed to private schools or Manhattan for ninth grade. That was true well before Weissberg moved to Park Slope. More than a decade ago, the district’s school board president, Mark Peters, waged an effort to turn John Jay High School into a destination for the neighborhood’s middle-class families. As a result, the struggling high school was replaced by three smaller schools: two that had been located elsewhere in the district and one that grew out of John Jay’s relatively strong legal studies program. But even with the overhaul, the new schools, which did not screen students, never attracted local students. And a decade after Peters engineered the building’s redesign, the Secondary School for Law; the Secondary School for Journalism; and the Secondary School for Research, which became Park Slope Collegiate in 2011, continued to struggle. Except for during the hours immediately after school, when some neighborhood shopkeepers would lock their doors to keep John Jay students out, there was little relationship between the building and its neighborhood. Then, last year, tensions over the addition of a selective school billed as more likely to attract Park Slope's high-performing students drew the neighborhood's attention back to the campus — and volunteers like Weissberg into the building. A year into Millennium Brooklyn’s uneasy co-location, it is not yet clear whether the building is on the way to becoming a Park Slope school, or whether the worst fears about Millennium’s presence will come to pass.