A Bed-Stuy High School Refutes Claims of Violence, Danger

Teachers at the Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance rate school dangerous on recent survey; others say, that's simply not true

 (BAGF) in Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of only a handful of public high schools in New York City that offers classes in Mandarin Chinese.

It has partnerships with some of the top education agencies in the city, such as the National Academy Foundation; the students take field trips to Wall Street each semester; and this past year, the school's students placed second out 16 schools in the borough-wide stock market challenge.

But the school’s latest claim to fame is where it placed in this year’s Department of Education Learning Environment Survey (LES)—as one of the most dangerous in all of New York City.

"The kids run wild, and the teachers are scared," said a former administrator at the high school, in a New York Daily News article. “It’s like there are no rules here.”

The school was co-founded only two years ago by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. His office released a statement about the survey results, saying, "The leadership is working to ensure the school fulfills its mission—to make a career in finance a very real and exciting option for all of its students."

The school’s principal Kavita Gupta, who stepped in after the first principal was fired, says the characterization of her school as dangerous and unsafe is innacurate and unfair. She points out that even as the student body has doubled in the school's second year (receiving its new freshman class), superintendent suspensions have gone down 33 percent.

She also points out that the LES survey is based on the perception of staff, students and their parents and not on the actual facts.

The police have reported no evidence of gang activity within or outside of the perimeter of the school, she says. No weapons have ever been reported, and the school has never had a need to use a scanner.

She admits the school has had some problems with bullying, but she insists that it's no more than any other school with a similar population.

“The majority of the fights were by people who had chronic suspensions,” said Gupta. “It was the same people. But it was not pervasive.”

In the “Safety and Respect” section of the report where students answered the question, “I stay at home because I don’t feel safe at school,” students were asked to check “Never,” “Some of the Time,” Most of the Time,” or “All of the Time.”

Two percent of the students checked “All of the Time,” and 94 percent of the students chose “Never” or “Some of the Time,” meaning that only 2 percent of the students felt unsafe to the point where they did not want to come to school, while 94 percent of the students generally felt safe enough to come to school.

High school is where alcohol and illegal drug use are often a huge problem. However, nearly 50 percent of the students at BAGF checked "never" for how often they see drugs and alcohol, while another 30 percent checked only “Some of the Time.”

“The way it’s being presented, it’s like they’re saying this is the worst school in the city, and that’s just misconstrued,” said Kim Warren, who has worked as the community coordinator at BAGF since February. Before BAGF, Warren ran the counselor program at Brooklyn Technical High School for 16 years and now teaches an advisory class that focuses on the students’ psychosocial development.

She says she never got any complaints from kids who said they felt for their safety: “We’re living in an environment where kids have a lot of needs. I’ve never seen a generation of kids that need so much love and support and resources as this one. But by calling the school dangerous is giving these kids a bad rap.”

So if the students feel generally safe, and the principal reports no incidents of gang activity or weapons possession, wherein lies the problem? In other words, how did the school receive a 4.9 out of 10 in the safety category (7.2 is the citywide average for all high schools) on their Learning Environment Survey?

Gupta asserts, some possible reasons for "safety" concerns might have less to do with the kids and more to do with the staff culture—one that is new and still developing.

“I came into a situation where I was the new principal, and their expectations were not my expectations,” said Gupta, rather transparently. She added, most of the faculty were first- and second-year teachers she did not hire, and they were still developing the tools to handle a classroom.

Her assessment that the unsafe environment results were staff-driven also is reflected in the LES survey response rates:

While only 76 percent of students filled out the survey (compared to the 83 percent citywide average), even fewer parents—17 percent—filled out the survey (compared to the 52 percent citywide average). That’s only 22 parents out of 130.

However, 100 percent of the school's teachers (compared to a citywide average of 82 percent) filled out the survey results.

And by nearly every account throughout the survey where it didn't include direct teacher involvement, the teachers gave the school and its administration low scores. From academic expectations to communications, from engagement to safety, the school numbers suffered.

That the survey is so heavily skewed towards teachers against Gupta is no less signficant than it is peculiar. Is safety truly the issue?

Nevertheless, the school is taking steps to aggressively address any and all safety issues that may be present, whether they are deemed the perception or not, including professional development of staff around classroom management and student engagement; weekly town hall meetings with the students; and they have hired a new assistant principal of safety and security, a new dean, more guidance counselors, along with starting several other student-focused social support systems.

“My students want to learn and they need support. If they are engaged, they will soar,” Gupta said. “I’m hopeful, because we have a strong new team with many pedagogues experienced in their subject area. I’m excited about seeing how far these students can go now.”

Recently, the school won a $.5 million grant to build a fully functional trading room floor, which will include a live ticker, PODS where students will be working together and Bloomberg terminals with real-time financial information and news.

Gupta also arranged for art students to help turn the school’s formerly gray walls of the hallways, lunchroom and auditorium into brightly painted landscapes.

“We’re getting state-of-the-art language labs and science labs; we are on our way,” said Gupta smiling warmly. Her eyes disappear somewhere into the corner of her office as though she sees something no one else can. “It’s going to be a new year.”

Thaddeus Russell Jr August 11, 2011 at 10:45 PM
I'm not negatively painting teachers with a broad brush, but a positive, negative or neutral result in any part of the Learning Environment Survey can be manipulated fairly easily once the malicious and/or deceitful party(ies) know what the normal number of responses to the survey. That number and percentage amount is readily obtained from a school's webpage. I'm glad that Principal Gupta and her Community Coordinator Ms. Warren are disputing the results based on the disparity of the responding groups. It would satisfy me even more if Borough President Markowitz and his Education Liaison Margaret Kelley conducted a complete study to expose the tactics and statistical shenanigans of the Michael Bloomberg Department of Education. A majority of "his" statistical reports are so systemmatically skewed in every direction, that they provide a breeding ground for malicious and deceitful practices, i.e. the Atlanta Public Schools fiasco. We must nip this in the bud and rein in the horse before it gets out of the barn, because it will be too late for another generation of young people if we turn a deaf ear to this potential catastrophe.
Shinji Ikari August 14, 2011 at 01:06 AM
I worked at this school under Ms. Gupta. I, like 80% of the staff, have gone to another school. Under Ms. Gupta's administration, I saw students and teachers alike lose their faith in the educational system. For the last two months of the school year, as volatile issues came to the surface in the school, she stayed in her office with the door closed, unwilling to address them. On the last day of school, several students she had suspended came into the school, due to her failure to set up a protocol she saw them and did nothing, and they assaulted another student. A few weeks earlier, one of the honor roll students had a bag thrown over his head in a section of the building where the students knew there were no cameras and was mercilessly assaulted. I can understand the point of view that the author of this piece is coming with, but as a teacher who has worked with this particular student population in the past, I can honestly say that nothing is being done to address students concerns and violence (the dean was the gym teacher last year and was only free one period to dean) and that any student who applies to this school should apply immediately to a school where the administration will actually care about them. This school has become a political hot zone where Mr. Markowitz, Ms. Gupta, Ms. Warren, and the DOE at large are trying to escape unscathed, but I can only hope that, for once, they put the children's futures in front of saving face and their own egos.
Barbara August 16, 2011 at 10:44 AM
There was no teacher at this school by the name of Shinji Ikari. If you are going to defame a school, why aren't you adult enough to use your real name? The gripe here is the fear of weak and incompetent teachers who had little or no classroom management skills ( the causes of any student discipline problems, minor though they were) of an administrator who tried to help teachers improve instructional practices, however, to no avail. It is better that you left the school than stayed on and did more damage to students and their education.....
Denise Azevedo October 06, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I am currently an 11th grade student at this particular school. I have been here since the beginning. Barbra, I feel as though you are skirting around the issue of "Shinji" 's post. As a student at BAGF, I feel as though bad behavior is rewarded. Principal Gupta went out on lunch dates and dinners with children who were constantly either being suspended, or associated with those students who were constantly suspended. Ms. Gupta was always "in a meeting" when things were happening in school. Whenever the students came to her with concerns, she always managed to talk her way out of providing solid information. I feel that the school system is quite political, so anything having to do with our actual education is an afterthought to covering their own behinds. Mandarin was only offered this year (11th grade) when we were clearly promised this in 10th grade. I am now scrambling to acquire language credits because of Ms. Gupta's constant procrastinating. Let me be clear, as of my last check in with my guidance counselor I have all of the credits that were offered to me and yet I still am not where I am supposed to be. We are required to have 6 language credits to qualify for an advanced regents diploma, and there are only 4 semesters of mandarin- making the maximum amount of language credits, 4. It's also not a coincidence that almost 80% of the faculty has left the school after Gupta's first year leading the school. She's unreasonable, uncompromising, and condescending.
tiffany December 15, 2011 at 03:07 AM
As for the post by "Shinji", it was right on the money. If I were the author of that post, I'd never write my real name either. Why would I? People are vindictive, and what would be the point of jeopardizing your name just to expose the truth? The truth is out thought; whether or not the public has a name behind the story. If 80% of the staff have left, that says more than A LOT. Let's not act as though Gupta is a saint and has tried oh so hard to help teachers and advance learning, increase attendance, and make the students feel like she understands and is in tune with their needs. There are never fights in the classrooms; they happen in the hallways. There was even a big brawl in the MAIN OFFICE. Because the ladder of referral is just something that is in black and white, students do what they know they can get away with. And lastly, there have been knives and icepicks in the school, as well as random scanning days. Don't leave it to a liar to give you the full story. It will NEVER happen.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »