by Pat Dobosz
It will be important for as many as can to attend the hearings at K293 on 11/29 in cobble Hill and PS 59K on 12/6 in Williamsgurg/Bushwick), both at 6 PM.
November 19, 2011 2 PM
Caribou Baby, 272 Driggs Ave (between Leonard and Eckford Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11222
Eva Moskowitz was advertised to speak at this 'discussion" session." She never showed. But her representatives who come to most of these sessions did because Eva can't take the heat. Jenny Sedlis, Sean and two unidentified others were present with their smiles and handshakes.
Before we began David and I spoke with Jenny about what school(s) BSA was planning to go into. She said it wasn't PS 59 (as they knew they are going in there). She spoke of that invasion as a done deal. She mentioned Cobble Hill, but said this discussion was about another school to go into the Williamsburg area. She mentioned that they were aware of what schools were 'underutilized," but would not say which schools they were (as if we didn't know - PS 19 and PS 84 for starters). She would not say again what school and claimed ignorance of having not been told by the DOE yet later on in the question session. She also knows that the schools near the meeting site (PS 31, PS 34 and PS 110) are overcrowded. What a perfect community to cream and skim because parents have difficulty getting into these "good' schools. She claimed the relationship with the co-located schools at the IS 33 campus was good. We have not heard anything in the community about BSA there. We also have no contacts at the IS 33 campus and the school seems to keep a low profile (at least outside the building - no signs or banners advertising the school).
She recognized David after a few minutes and remembered him from the CEC meeting held a while back. Disturbingly, she referred to his connection to the UFT all throughout the question period. She blamed the UFT : they do not like our schools and do not want them to exist. I had to stop her to let her know that we were not there representing the UFT, but we were there as interested parents, community members and teachers in the community. After the session, David spoke privately with her and warned her not to do that to him in public again. Out of the 13 people there, three of us were teachers (one from PS 34) and two or three parents from the PS 34 community. The others did not identify themselves publicly.
Jenny spoke of how Harlem Success Academies are "progressive and traditional." She spoke about how the reading program emphasizes comprehension and "the robust writing program." Both of these are based on the Balanced Literacy model. She mentioned the math, science, art programs as well as the trips children take to "fuel their writing." She never mentioned a social studies program. The school also offers soccer and basketball.
She spoke about the school structure and the longer day. She claimed that they have 57,000 applications for teaching positions and that most of them come from NYC and from teachers disillusioned with the public school system She explained how principals for their schools are trained and how new schools are staffed. She was emphatic that they "only go into space where existing schools can maintain their programs."
Then the question period began and Ms. Sedlis had to be on her toes. Most people were not buying her line. Some folks had to be reminded that the reason they could not get Pre-K or K seats for their children was because the DOE chose to reduce those programs in many of our District 14 schools.
HSA/BSA can only set up K-4 schools at first. They have to "ask" for space for grades 4-8 (Hmmmm I wonder which schools they will invade then or will they push out the schools they are in and expand?)
She spoke about the lottery system and the priorities.
There will be 190 K and grade 1 students, but there is flexibility in the number of classes set up according to registration numbers for each grade. Class sizes are 25-26 children. Asked about the large class size (when we have smaller class sizes in the district), she replied that the "quality of the teacher determines the quality of the education despite the class size."
People wanted to know why we (the city/DOE) are not combining resources for our children and schools. Why are we separating them? "This school is a cultural diversion," said one parent.
Jenny's answer was that a group of parents approached HSA. They heard there was a need. Parents should have a "choice." Our goal is to be an integrated school. Then she quoted statistics about HSA:
65% are Black and Latino
35% are White
40% live at the poverty level
Why are the tours up on the Upper West Side and not at the new school over at IS 33? "We will do other schools, but we are a target of the teachers' union. It goes after Eva." We also operate out of Harlem. " We are not for profit. We want to be a positive force for education." She said there is nothing bad with getting private funding. If they want to give us money, we'll take it. She claims they take in no private funding after three years. (Just FYI Sean kept peering over my shoulder to see what I was writing down, but never said a word.)
Several people kept saying we need to make our neighborhood schools successful by providing the resources they need. The DOE is not resourcing the "underutilized space" if they are taking classes away from the bottom (Pre-K and K)
The students of HSA?BSA are kept separate from the public school children except for "structured large sharing times: parades, assemblies etc.
The question was raised about how charters can ask students to leave while public schools cannot. Jenny bristled when David mentioned the Matthew Sprowel expulsion. There is concern with what was going on in his large kindergarten class that allowed for this and where his needs were not met, as well as not recognizing that he was gifted. "He was NOT expelled. The UFT does not like our schools, it doesn't want them to exist. She was coached by the UFT. The child was not kicked out. That's not the truth." Jenny also mentioned the incident of the large number of teachers that left one school. She couldn't give a clear answer. She mentioned that the schools don't have the city pension system, but have a 401K and that the schools tend to attract teachers with less than 15 years experience.
Children have to take the state tests. The school has to prove how the curriculum aligns to the CCLS.
Ms. Sedlis was asked about High Stakes Testing in the HSA networks and about whether they thought about going with project based assessment as an alternative to the tests and whether they planned to seek an exemption as some other schools have from HST. She answered that they do have project based learning in the "later grades." But that they need objective measures (tests) "and they are worthwhile." The state math test is low bar. The ELA is a better measure. We Want to make sure our children can pass the tests for competitive high schools. Tests are not necessarily the focus. The longer school day provides for the science and arts.
The fact that the state tests are not aligned with authentic instruction was discussed. Jenny retorted with, "Our oldest children are in sixth grade (this is the first year for 6) We'll have to look further as we go toward grade 8."
The teacher from PS 34 said, " I haven't heard the innovation. What are you offering that is different from our neighborhood schools?" She really couldn't answer this except that they provide a "choice." They attract teachers with 3 or less years experience who are discouraged with the public school system.
Will you be subject to following the Danielson Frameworks? (She had to be told what they were.) No they would not have to follow these for evaluations. Principals are instructional leaders. There are other people who take care of the outside business. Teachers are observed each day under a non punishing evaluation system.
One father said he could feel the tension present and he asked how this tension would affect the people in the school building and the parents. He expressed the fact that parents often sacrifice to have their children in a safe, non-violent environment. He feared that the children would be put in between the tension. Jenny's answer to him was that there was a lot of "nuance, an us vs. them." She did admit there were many good things going on in the Public school system. Then she brought up that only 54% of the PS children are passing. Several people said that tests should not be used as the standard of success.
Someone mentioned that the public schools have not been allowed to expand and the conflict agenda has been created by design. Sedlis admitted that we don't like the conflict. She told us that HSA experiences the fight before they go in, but once the principals sit down, they work together and "there is no conflict." if there were, "we would address any conflict immediately."
On this comment, the meeting was ended. The HSA reps stayed around for questions. I was able to hand out several of the GEM Truth About Charter School pamphlets to some of the parents there and the PS 34 teacher. David spoke further privately with Sedlis. One thing she told him was that HSA was also relegated to the basement in one of the schools.
Follow-up from a teacher at PS 241M
Just some clear info on HSA students being "relegated" to the basement in one of their schools-
The students in PS 241 were "relegated" to the basement for two years in order to provide HSA with prime space in the building. Preference was given to HSA students at then expense of PS 241 students. Only after much press on this issue- including a segment on it in the highly acclaimed and widely viewed "Inconvenient Truth About Waiting For Superman"- as well as a visit to the school to view the situation from Walcott himself, did the HSA students get "their turn" in the basement of the school. But do not feel badly for them, it was space taken away from the PS 241 students (not swapped out) as HSA pushes them out of more and more space in the building AND HSA put tens of thousands of dollars of renovations into the space that DOE did not feel necessary for the PS 241 students when they occupied the space-including a brand new, renovated bathroom that Walcott promised they would NOT be allowed to renovate!!!!