Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Juan Pagan: Warning to NYC mayoral candidates about the personal damage done by closing schools

A few weeks ago, there was an education rally at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church,  in which speaker after speaker explained why the next mayor MUST take a different direction and stop the juggernaut of school closings, co-locations, and budget cuts that are laying waste to the education of our 1.1 million public schoolchildren. But the most eloquent speech came from a parent leader named Juan Pagan, whose daughter attended Legacy HS, one of the schools that the DOE decided to phase out despite a spirited battle by its students, teachers and parents.   


Mayor Bloomberg has criticized parents like Juan who oppose the closing of their children's schools, saying they just don't understand the value of a good education.  Sadly, it is the mayor who doesn't understand the damage his agency has wreaked on thousands of NYC childrenJuan's observations about the lack of services and classes available to his daughter echo the observations made by teams sent by the State Education Department about other phase out schools, like Jamaica HS in Queens.  Here is Juan's speech:

photo credit: The NY Times

My name is Juan Pagan. I'm a single father of a teenage daughter. As any single parent can tell you, that's a tough job in itself. But I try to look out for my daughter as best I can, but the DOE has made it practically impossible. 

When they decided to phase-out and CLOSE DOWN my daughter's school, they labeled it FAILING. Kids don't GET that. They think that it means that THEY failed. Everyone has self-esteem issues when they're a teenager… My daughter took it hard, the implication that she – a student already struggling – personally failed. But the hard blow she got hit with isn't the only reason she's 19 and hasn't graduated. 

The reason for that is that DOE abandoned Legacy High School. They promised us that the closing of her school WOULD NOT impact the course of her education; they promised us that they WOULD continue to support the students of this closing school.

For example, my daughter is special-ed with a learning disability, and her IEP demands that she sees the school psychologist or social worker one-on-one, twice a week; The one thing she needed the most in her life was the first thing she lost - her social worker - when they decided to close down Legacy… She's no longer getting the emotional support she needs to thrive.  

She's under-credited, and when we went to the new principal to see how she can obtain the credits she needs, my daughter and I were told, “We cannot help you…” That the school doesn't have the resources anymore, because, as a result of its closing, half of the space was given for another new school to open this year – Harvest Collegiate High School. 

My daughter was abandoned. 

I grew up in this City, born and raised here… When I grew up here, we all had a right to an education. But Bloomberg treats schools like businesses; shut this one down here; open a new one there… disrupting my daughter’s stability; and severely impacting Spec-Ed kids, and diminishing the quality of their education without any regard whatsoever whether they fail or drop out...

The toll this has taken on my daughter is so painful for me… she has become depressed; I’ve been desperately trying to keep her head above water, but she continues to slip out of my arm as I, with all my strength, try to keep her head above water… The problem is that there is a rope tied to her ankles; at the end of that rope is a boulder; the awful boulder of Bloomberg’s failed and extremely discriminatory education policies.

I wonder – if it’s not too late for my daughter – which of these candidates, who becomes mayor, is going to truly cut that rope tied to my daughter’s ankles, and allow her to rise up? 

To the candidates: First, thank you for being here. Second, please remember my daughter - Hannah Pagan - for there are thousands like her trapped in this system. And third, you are going to contend with the deciding factor of this mayoral race: the parents of this city; I’m just one of over a million parents that you will answer to, not only at the ballot in September 2013, but during your term as mayor. -- Juan Pagan

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