Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bijou Miller on DOE's illegal intention to eliminate a zoned school -- and give the building to a charter

The DOE intends to close PS 241 on W. 113 St., the only zoned school in the neighborhood, and give the building over to a charter school, yet another in Eva Moskowitz' ever-expanding chain of charters, the Harlem Success Academies.
Here is a short description of PS 241 from InsideSchools:
Once PS 241 was known as the Family Academy, supported by a not-for-profit foundation that raised enough money to offer classes until 5 p.m., a summer school, a health clinic, and a team of social workers. The Friends of Family Academy developed a carefully structured curriculum with an emphasis on phonics. When that curriculum was supplanted by the one that the chancellor mandated for most schools in 2003 (and that took a more progressive approach to teaching reading) the foundation pulled out, and with that support went the extras.
Clearly, the malignant neglect (and poor curriculum choices) of DOE officials have brought down this school, and rather than endeavor to improve it, or put another regular public school in its place, they are trying to push through their unilateral decision to replace it with a charter school.
What's especially awful is that by closing this school, the DOE will essentially eliminate the school zone and leaving these children without any zoned school to attend. By Section 2590-e of NY State education law, any change in zoning has to be approved by the district's Community Education Council. Yet in this case, no one from DOE consulted the CEC, no less gave them the chance to approve or disapprove.
This action would be an extremely dangerous precedent if allowed to stand. It would essentially allow the DOE to convert any and all zoned schools in NYC to charters, to essentially privatize the entire public school system without anyone being able to stop them. For more on this, see Juan Gonzalez column here: Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein determined to keep parents seen not heard.
Bijou Miller is co-President of the President's council in District 3 and a member of the District 3 Leadership Team. Here is her account:
In December, the DOE announced that it was phasing out two of our schools in District 3. The reasons given were dropping enrollment and poor performance (though in one case, those were not the original reasons given but that is another story). I was informed as a member of the District Leadership Team (DLT) and told that the DLT would be the group that took community input, looked at new school proposals and then gave a recommendation to the DOE.
Long story short, it did not turn out that way for either school. One of those schools is PS 241. We have had three open meetings on this - one in December and two in January. At the second meeting, John White from Portfolio, had two proposals for PS 241, one a charter school (and it seemed to be Eva Moskowitz's chain, Harlem Success). White had even invited Harlem Success parents to comeand "testify" about how great their school was. So the deck seemed to be definitely stacked.
The other option was a public school but John did not offer any information on it and to date has never said anything about this other option. He said that PS 241 was no longer attracting zoned families and that only thirteen families had applied to the kindergarten class. The DOE felt that replacing 241 with another public school would not solve the under enrollment problem.
They felt that a charter school would attract more parents. At this meeting, he brought up the idea that if they put a charter school in, it would hold its lottery for catchment children first so as to accept as many 241 children as possible and then open the lottery to the district after 241 children had been accommodated.

At the third meeting and last meeting we had (we were expecting more meetings but unbeknownst to us, the process was over!), White added on to this scenario. In addition to having the charter school hold its lottery for 241 kids first, he said that they would also have first priority at five other area schools.
Parents asked about the zoning issues. For all intents and purposes, this scenario would make one group of families be zoned for five different public schools, all of them outside their original zone. Additionally, because the DOE is not replacing 241 with a public school, they are in essence not giving the families of that zone a neighborhood school. Charter schools do not qualify as zoned schools because they take from throughout the district. This is also not to mention that some of these five schools do not have the room to take in children from another catchment.
Last night, there was a joint Presidents' Council/CEC meeting tonight. Our Pres.Council meeting began at 6 P.M. Upon arriving, I noticed that therewas a huge crowd already in the auditorium. I assumed that it was people getting there early for the 6:30 CEC meeting, which had a very long agenda. Instead, to my surprise, I discovered a rally being held for the Harlem Success Academy.
I later found out that this "hearing" was being held under the auspices of the Charter School Institute of the State University of New York. I also foundout that someone had bused in a group of children who were given caps blazoned with the Harlem Success Academy logo. If this was a hearing to get community feedback, it certainly had a very biased atmosphere. I was told that PS 241 parents had not known about this hearing and apparently, if you wanted to speak, you had to somehow contact the "Hearing Registration Officer" on the day of the hearing BEFORE it started (the window of opportunity was from 5 to 5:30p.m.)
I did not attend this "hearing" as I had to conduct our own meeting but from what I gleaned, I do not think the State University got the response they had expected. In fact, many parents were angry and outraged and that anger and outrage carried over into the CEC meeting (which was delayed forforty five minutes because of this hearing).
At the CEC meeting, parents from 241 and other schools were understandably upset. The upshot is this: There was no consultation with the CEC about putting a new school into PS 241. There was no consultation with PS 241 parents about whether or not they wanted a charter school put into their building.

It now turns out that the DOE is putting in an already established branch of Harlem Success so the first and second grade classes are already full and will not have space for PS 241 children. So much for giving PS 241 children a charter school choice.
The bottom line is that the DOE is radically changing the zone by eliminating it --and the CEC has not been asked to approve. Zoning is the CEC's department and the DOE has no right to proceed with this plan without getting approval from the CEC. The DOE also has decided to place a charter school into 241 without any discussion with the families. I suppose the hearing last night was that "discussion" but, as I said, many parents had no idea it was even taking place.
---Bijou Miller, Co-President of District 3 Presidents' Council and DLT member


Anonymous said...

It's just so ugly that hearings and meetings taking up issues of school governance law are being swamped by troops turned out by Bloomberg/Klein. People can't even attend the Assembly hearings because of these crowds of "supporters". At the last Assembly hearing I kept asking these elderly Harlem women holding signs about extending mayoral control who they were representing and they told me they weren't allowed to say. I asked them why they believed in mayoral control and they said they didn't know. They were being field marshalled by white women who I was finally informed by one of the Harlem women were charter school advocates. I expect it was the same political theater in district 3 -- drown out the democracy with tightly controlled and uninformed "rent-a-crowds".

In Fairness said...

It would be useful to know and publicize where the funding came from for the busses which brought outside demonstrators to the event.

What is especially sad about this Mayor, and his "control" is that he has no plan to improve a "failing" school. If he had a plan, that is a failure because schools continue to fail. The only plan seems to be to close public schools and open charters, which aren't public in the traditional sense. This is not fair, equitable or effective governance of a school system.

Mayoral control was supposed to provide one person who could be held accountable for the success of the schools and the school system. This mayor has not been successful in a great many ways, but there seems to be no way to hold him accountable. The time has come to demand his accountability.

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting. I find it a bit odd that PS 241 parents think the school is great when it is not doing very well, at least in terms of test scores. I would not send my child there. But replacing it with a charter school that will exclude the worst students is a bitter pill for the community. Even if the worst students are bussed to better schools and their scores/learning improve, it is shocking that the DOE is not even going to try to provide a good zoned school. A charter school can be great but only for the kids who get in. What about everybody else?

Anonymous said...

This post is almost a year old, but I had to comment. PS 241 was never a failing school. It was a struggling school, that continues to struggle for the resources it needs and for real support from the DOE with its above average number of high needs students(English language learners, special education students, foster care students, temporary housing students, free lunch students, students with active ACS cases). Even with the DOE sabotaging PS 241 last year and this year too, the school was one of the city's top 10 MOST IMPROVED schools in May of 2009 and they received an A grade on its annual review! The DOE doesn't give a damn about PS 241 or any other Harlem School. even with the test score gains and the A grade the DOE denied PS 241 a pre-kindergarten that they recieved 20 applications for. All the DOE is interested in is replacing public schools and dictating to parents what their choices are. Democracy is dying and the DOE's Klein and Bloomberg are leading the charge