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Friday, April 22, 2016

A dispiriting night at the Panel for Educational Policy; DOE continues to close struggling schools, co-locate charters and plans to destroy two terrific public schools


Meyer Levin video screenshot; see below
Wednesday night's meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy was even more emotional than usual.  I was watching the livestream to see if any of the numerous, highly questionable contracts that Patrick Sullivan and I had highlighted and had been written about in the media aroused any concerns – including the huge Amazon contract as well as the others going to preK and special education providers who had failed their background checks.  Silly me.  They were all approved unanimously, without a single comment or question. This new, supposedly more “independent” PEP has never yet to vote down a contract – even the $625 million contract awarded to the corrupt computer vendor that had engaged in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme a few years ago.
Similarly, all the various charter school co-locations and school closing schemes were approved as well, as well as a change in the fair student funding formula and the spending for nearly one billion dollars of the Smart School Bond Act, with few if any questions asked.  I think there was one recusal for a Success Academy charter co-location – a school that is facing several lawsuits and civil rights complaints for violating children’s rights.  Wow do I miss Patrick on the PEP! 

Before the votes, however, there was something stirring to see from the audience, who as usual got three minutes each to address the Panel members.
First, there were plaintive remarks from teachers at the Renewal FLAG school in the Bronx that the DOE is closing, with a very emotional teacher Aixa Rodriguez explaining how the timing was awful, with the announcement made after the high school admission process had ended.  Aixa had to explain to a pregnant Spanish-speaking teenager that she would have to find a new school nearby.  It is not easy to find high schools with a LYFE program to provide child care once her baby was born.  MORE leader Jia Lee was there, as well as other teachers to provide support, with one pointing out that so many of the struggling Renewal schools were burdened with charter co-locations that they might as well be called Removal schools instead.
Then civil rights attorney Norman Siegel then took his turn at the microphone, accompanied by several now-adult male graduates of orthodox Yeshiva schools from the nonprofit  group Yaffed, attesting to the near entire lack of instruction they had received as students in English, math and other academic subjects which put them at a huge disadvantage in life and asking for the Chancellor’s help.  Though it is the Chancellor’s responsibility along with the State Education Department to ensure these schools are providing an “substantially equivalent” to what’s mandated for public schools, the DOE has apparently done nothing to follow through, and didn’t even answer the letter that Norman Siegel sent to her in December 2014

This was followed by a phalanx of parents, teachers and alumnae protesting the planned invasion of Kings Collegiate charter school into the building of the Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts in Flatbush, with the charter school supposed to take over the entire third floor where this middle school’s performing arts rooms are located. See the terrific video at the bottom of this post.
One after another, they spoke of what a unique school Meyer Levin is, especially as it’s the only performing arts middle school in this part of the borough, and how well the school had served its talented and enthusiastic students over many years. See the Carol Burris article in the Washington Post; or the article about this in the Daily News.  In contrast, Kings Collegiate, one of the Uncommon charter chain, is a “no excuses” school with rigid disciplinary policies and some of the highest suspension rates in the city.   You can sign a petition to save Meyer Levin School; and here’s a website with more about the issue.
Finally, there were parents, students, teachers and alumnae from one of the oldest and most celebrated progressive schools in NYC – Central Park East 1, founded by Deborah Meier in East Harlem nearly forty years ago.  Unbelievably, the DOE has installed a new principal at the school who doesn’t believe in progressive education, and who appears to be doing everything she can to destroy it, from carrying out a witch hunt against veteran teachers who haven’t fallen in line, even calling young students into her office to try to “investigate” and build a case against them. 

The principal has refused to meet with parents to discuss their concerns, and instead sent them letters, with the strong implication that black and brown children can’t learn in a progressive environment.  At the PEP meeting, amazing alumnae from diverse backgrounds spoke about how this fabled school had literally changed their lives around.  Parents, teachers and students eloquently described how the principal is destroying what makes the school so exceptional.  DNA info has run articles on the school’s plight here and here.  Here is their website.  Please sign their petition which already has been signed by nearly two thirds of the current families at the schools.

What is so dispiriting is here are two, unique and successful schools, trying to do the right thing by their students against all odds, and provide them with an engaging, well-rounded education, and yet the DOE is trying to undermine them in the most unsubtle ways.  In the case of the Meyer Levin Performing Arts School, the administration is proposing to take away their performing arts rooms -- to give them to an oppressive charter school.  In the case of the progressive CPE1, by inserting a top-down, authoritarian principal who doesn’t believe in collaboration or progressive education.   

These schools somehow survived the twelve ruthless years of Bloomberg and Klein’s reign of terror, and yet are being destroyed by de Blasio and Farina – despite the fact that these schools exemplify the supposed values of this supposedly progressive administration.

Below is a fantastic video made by the students at Meyer Levin; please watch and enjoy!  Sorry for the occasional email alerts at the right of the screen– I filmed this off Facebook before it was taken down.




Meyer Levin video from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

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