|Lydia Bellahcene and Julie Cavanagh|
The following was
written by Julie Cavanagh and Lydia Bellahcene, a teacher and a parent at PS 15
in Brooklyn. This is their real-life “Won’t
Back Down” story, unlike the Hollywood version featured in the film of the same
name that will open nationwide on Sept. 28. You can also check out my review of the movie. If you are a parent or educator and have your own real-life Won't Back
Down story you’d like to share, please send it to us at email@example.com Thanks!
The movie “Won't Back Down” is a work of fiction but is said
to be based on real life events.
the story of a teacher and a parent in a 'failing' school who join forces to
'save their school'. The tale is a powerful one and some viewers may find
themselves rooting for the protagonists.
We too identify with the film, but not because
we belong to a poorly performing school. Instead, we have fought
to save our successful public school from the invasion of a charter school,
which is not a story that the pro-privatization producers
of the film would be likely
We are a teacher and a parent at PS 15 in Red Hook,
Brooklyn, also known as the Patrick F. Daly School. Ours is an elementary school that gets an “A”
according to the NYC Department of Education’s own accountability system, despite
enrolling large numbers of students with disabilities and English Language
Learners. Our school has been the heart
of the Red Hook community in Brooklyn for decades. It has a rich history, including
surviving the crack epidemic in the 1980's and the loss of its beloved
principal, Patrick Daly, to gun violence in 1992, while he was searching for an
absent student in a housing project nearby.
As the NY Times reported
at the time
of Patrick Daly’s death: “Distraught children, teachers and
other staff members at P.S. 15 yesterday mingled sobs with praise for a
principal who had not only raised the academic sights and achievements of the
685 pupils from pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade, but had also raised
the self-esteem of thousands of children. “
In 2008, the DOE announced that a new charter school
called PAVE Academy would be co-located in our building. The charter
school was started by Spencer Robertson
, the son of the hedge fund billionaire
Julian Robertson, a close political ally and supporter of both Mayor Bloomberg
and Mitt Romney
. (LH Note: Julian Robertson also manages to evade paying city taxes by having his secretary calculate exactly how many days he needs to be out of the city every year to escape being categorized as a resident
When it was announced that the PAVE charter would be placed
in our building, the Red Hook community stood united against this invasion.
Parents, young people, community members and teachers protested against the
loss of space and services that would have a negative impact on our students. They also questioned the need for a charter
school because Red Hook already had a successful public school that is
cherished and beloved. Despite the
public outcry, the department forced the charter into our building, but
promised this would last only one year while Mr. Robertson looked for another, privately
owned building to lease.
The DOE also gave $26 million dollars in city capital funds
to help Spencer. Robertson so he could build his
own charter school nearby, despite the fact that he could surely have asked his billionaire
father to finance this construction, and our community neither needs nor
wants a charter school in our midst.
Even though DOE officials initially promised PAVE would
stay only one year, in the spring of
2009 we learned that they intended to allow the school to stay and expand in
our building for an additional five years. We were told of this change of heart not by DOE, but by a reporter with the Daily News.
Parents and teachers at PS 15 immediately joined forces and
created a grassroots organization called CAPE, or Concerned Advocates for
Public Education, to protest DOE’s broken promise, and to fight
for our students’ right to retain critical classroom space and rooms for
special education and intervention services.
We met with our local elected officials, wrote letters,
circulated petitions, organized meetings in the neighborhood public library,
canvassed the community, and held rallies. We were so committed to
standing up and not backing down, we even filed a lawsuit
so that we could
protest in front of the Mayor Bloomberg’s residence on the Upper East Side, after
the city tried to bar us from his block, having declared it a no-First Amendment
We collected more than 1,000 petition signatures and letters
of support from every local elected official.
Hundreds of community members attended our rallies. At hearings,
opponents to the extension of the charter’s stay in our building outnumbered supporters
by more than two to one. Yet the Board of Education, otherwise known as
the Panel for Education Policy, which has a super-majority of Mayor Bloomberg's
voted to extend the
co-location by an additional three years.
Our story doesn't fit into simplistic narrative that the
makers of “Won’t Back Down” would like to portray: that teacher unions are the main obstacles to
school reform. We don’t believe that closing public schools and opening
charters are the answers to any of the problems that public schools face.
Our fight is against the billionaires and hedge fund operators who are intent
on undermining our public schools in their fierce campaign to privatize the
Sad to say, our story won't be the subject of any Hollywood film,
and it does not have a Hollywood ending, but it is real and should serve as a cautionary
tale for parents, educators and all others who believe in fighting to preserve and
strengthen our public schools as the centerpiece of our nation’s democracy.
Don't give up the fight- keep posting and the larger Brooklyn community will come through.
I think the parents and community of any school have the right to stand up and fight for what they want for a school, even when there are opposing sides - both sides have the right to express - however there is always a victor and sometimes it is not our side that is victorious and that is hard to accept sometimes. In this case the school was successful and the community wants the school just the way it is - I say the charter should of found some other temporary home. I could understand if the school was historically non-performing, but it appears the school itself was a piece of history in this community and it should of been protected for its success and historical significance.
Parents and the community of any school system have the right to stand up and speak at School Board Meetings! If parents and the community unite and support educators to the School Board, Superintendent, and the Governor, they will be more supportive of hearing what is the failing of the system from Educators. Otherwise, you have people that have NEVER been in a class making uneducated decisions about EDUCATION!
I really like your blog and have one with similar information. If you have time check it out.home invasion
Post a Comment