It was near-bedlam last night at Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, the site of the Panel for Educational Policy's final hearing where PEP ultimately voted to close 23 of New York City's failing public schools.
In what may have been the largest turnout in the history of PEP hearings, thousands of parents, students, teachers and administrators staged a thunderous, all-out protest of Mayor Bloomberg’s latest decision to shutter 23 failing schools, including at least one in every borough this academic school year.
In Bedford-Stuyvesant, two failing schools were slated for closure, ) and Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII (KAPPA VII).
However, in a rare move, on the eve of last night’s hearing, , along with Wadleigh Middle School in Harlem, leaving ABCD amongst the 23 remaining schools at the mercy of the PEP.
Protests meant to derail the mayor’s decision were planned outside of the hearing and announced ahead of time by three separate groups: the United Federation of Teachers, the Coalition for Educational Justice and Occupy the DOE.
But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said any efforts to derail voting and a final decision would fall on deaf ears.
“There are important proposals up for discussion tonight and my hope is that we will have a respectful process where people can be heard,” Walcott said in a statement before the hearing. “But if all the UFT wants to do is bus in Occupy Wall Street to disrupt public meetings — which provides absolutely no benefit to students — then we will just have to work around that. We are prepared to move forward even if there are disruptions.”
Since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the DOE, he has moved swiftly to reform the New York City public school system by identifying failing schools and giving them a probationary period to turn around through various methods, including a mix of increased financial resources and staff professional development.
If within a certain time period -- usually 2-3 years -- the school fails to improve, the DOE moves to close the school and in its place open a new school, often a charter school with a different name, staff and governance. Charter schools do not fall under the UFT's umbrella, and in most cases at charter schools, students perform better.
However, parents and administrators have expressed growing discontent with the DOE and the mayor’s reform approach, arguing he should do more to repair existing schools. Additionally, they argue, the systems currently in place for school evaluations – teacher report cards and student test scores – are underdeveloped and fail to paint a full picture. Also, closing a school leaves teachers out of work and creates an unstable environment for students.
Still, the yelling, screaming and pandemonium at last night’s hearing left almost no room for reasonable negotiation on either side of the aisle. Instead, the angry participants used the auditorium, the hallways and the streets surrounding the school's building as a stage to voice their ire.
One parent from Bed-Stuy’s ABCD shouted on the microphone, “Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, what does it remind me of? Destruction! Cathie Black? Destruction! Eva Maskowitz? Destruction! Testing? Destruction! Teacher Evaluation? Destruction! Power to the teachers and the parents! No more puppets!”
Michael Reilly, recording secretary for Community Education Council (CEC) 31, said the night felt like organized confusion. He and CEC 31’s president and vice president were there to speak about a new busing program that would improve student safety in Staten Island. But Reilly said he was not optimistic they would get a chance to speak, and he blamed the chaos on the mayor.
“To be honest and keeping it real, the mayor hand-selected eight of the 13 panelist that are up there right now, so we already know how the voting is going to turn out,” he said. “And that’s all because of the New York State legislator. The assembly and the senate gave him the power, and that’s the problem.”
Amalfia Mendinghall, PTA secretary at the Academy of Business and Community Development, said the DOE’s system for reform is flawed because instead of helping students improve, it is set up to first see them fail.
“They need services,” said Mendinghall. “They were supposed to get all of these support teams when the school first started having problems, and they haven’t brought in any services. The children don’t have any reading programs; there’s no math program; there’s no library. That’s just a setup for failure so they can close the school and bring in a charter school. But no one’s thinking about how that will affect the children.”