PEP votes 'yes' to school closures, “turnaround” model
by Lisa A. Fraser
Apr 27, 2012 | 4966 views | 1 1 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Panel for Education Policy members vote on the proposed closures and reopening of 24 schools across the city.
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The Panel for Education Policy (PEP) voted Thursday night to close 24 schools across the city and reopen them under new names and with as many as half the staff cut.

The high schools schools slated for transformation include John Adams, Richmond Hill, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City, Flushing, August Martin, and Newtown High School in Queens.

In Brooklyn, the high schools slated for closure include Automotive, John Dewey and Sheepshead Bay High School.

Between February and today, the PEP has approved 44 school closures to begin or take place this summer – more than in any previous year.

The PEP voted to close the schools with an almost 8-4 count for each school, while exasperated parents, teachers and students looked on. Some teachers heckled the panel calling all who voted for the turnaround, “puppets” and those who voted no, “heroes.”

The vote came just before midnight, after many parents, teachers and students spoke for the last time in front of all the panel members at the Prospect Heights High School campus in Brooklyn, in a boisterous effort to inspire a change of heart from PEP members and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“The vote to close our local high schools is extremely disappointing and will undoubtedly disrupt students’ ability to learn,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris in a statement sent out this morning. “It is unfortunate that the Department of Education put politics ahead of our children’s educational needs.”

Gianaris said that he will do everything he can to make the transition “as smooth as possible” and will work with the schools in his district – William Cullen Bryant High School and Long Island City High School – to provide the best possible learning environment for the students.

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who graduated from Bryant High School, called the vote, “disgraceful.”

“They're making a great, big mistake,” said Daniel Rhodes, the PTA president of John Adams High School. Rhodes said that he will do all that he can to make the transition to the new school smooth.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz called on the DOE and the PEP to stop demonizing teachers and public education.

According to the PEP, one of the first priorities will include eliminating staff in the struggling schools.

DOE officials said that there is no exact number for how many current teachers can be rehired but Walcott said that it could go higher than 50 percent. Teachers will be rehired back by a committee of two teachers, two DOE appointees and the principal.

Although Walcott noted that all students are promised a seat in the transformed schools, some remained skeptical.

“If I were a parent I'd be extremely anxious as to where my child is going in September,” said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan.

“And as a student, now I will be forced to put on my college application, a different school name that I don't even know yet; I don't see any effort to address that key issue,” she added while addressing the panel.

Rhodes also said that he is worried that some of the students who were promised seats in the new school won't be included.

“I'm going to have to let the parents know that they should be on the look out for the DOE saying that because of some reason, not all the kids could stay,” he said.

Despite comments that the closures were not in the best interests of the schools, the majority of the PEP remained vigilant in their opinion that this is the best decision.

“We're building on the strengths of particular schools and cut out any weaknesses,” Walcott said. “This is a great opportunity for a school to re-identify itself with a new mission, new staff, new program and a new name to raise itself to the next level.”

Walcott told critics of the turnaround model that it was used before in 2005, although not on the scale it is being used now.

“All new schools that have been created have followed the same process and is no different than past policies in place for new schools,” he said.

Judy Bergtraum, a recent mayoral appointee to the DOE, said that she voted for the turnaround because the schools have been struggling for many years.

“I just see this as an opportunity for change,” she said.

Walcott also said that the construction of new schools, such as Maspeth High School and the Cambria Heights Academy, will ensure that the transformed schools are not over-saturated.

“In Queens, hopefully we will start to see a redistribution of where students are going, and we won't have overburdening,” he said.

Among some of the concerns were whether current programs in the schools would be retained. One PEP member said that the DOE will look at which programs are working well in the schools but didn't make it clear whether they will in fact be retained.

"It's a process to tap talented educators in each schools; this is an opportunity to reconstitute staff, introduce new programing,” said Marc Sternberg, a DOE official. “We have evidence in experience in new school strategy.”

Another PEP appointee, Joan Correale, said that her daughter went through a process similar to the turnaround at her Bronx high school, and admitted that she considered taking her out of the school, but now it is doing much better, calling it a highly sought-after school.

At the meeting, a resolution to oppose the turnaround model, introduced by Queens borough PEP appointee, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, was voted down, 8-4.

Earlier in the day it was revealed that two schools were off the closure list – Grover Cleveland in Ridgewood and Bushwick Community High School.

Although Cleveland's community was happy to be off the list, students like Diana Rodriguez remained concerned for the other public schools. She and students who are part of an organization, Student Activists United, also attended the hearing.

“We do not stand for injustice, it has to stop,” Rodriguez said. “All students have been harassed by this proposal.”

Others, like Brett Green, a music teacher at the saved school, said that the Cleveland community should remain cautious.

“There's been so much damage done to the students and the morale and to the whole environment,” he said. “We're safer today but it's very temporary ... I'm very skeptical; we're going to be under intense scrutiny but the truth is we have made improvements.”

Some parents at the hearing questioned if the decision was already made and whether they were wasting their time speaking on behalf of a school if it was fated to close anyway.

Council Member Letitia James spoke on behalf of some of them.

“People should be able to petition government and should not have to come here today thinking that this is nothing more than a sham,” she told the panel after calling the DOE's actions, “mediocre”.

Rhodes said that he is proud that the school's community fought for John Adams, but also questioned the PEP and DOE.

“We did what it took,” he said. “But it makes me ask, did we really ever have a chance?”

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jack1959
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May 02, 2012
So PEP is closing down many schools just because they can not or do not have the smarts to correct the problems that may exist. What will the cost of these changes be?? Keep the schools name. There is no reason to change them. I really think that this is a slick NYC book keeping trick to justify their jobs by saying that X amout of money was saved. It only hurts the students. Can't we just get back to the job of educating our children???? They have to close schools to reinvent education??? That ia BS.