Monday, June 1, 2009

Ramifications of The IS 278 Victory

There are a lot of angles to study in the recent rare victory of the IS 278 community in fighting off the insertion of a charter school into their building in the Marine Park area of Brooklyn. Contrasts to other protests like the one in Co-op City in the Bronx are stark in terms of the numbers, if not the spirit. School closing rallies can be spirited, as they were at PS 72 in East NY, Brandeis HS or at PS 150 in Brownsville.

There were certainly some unique circumstances:
  • The ability to pull out a thousand people.
  • The politicians jumping on board, including Anthony Weiner and Bill Thompson.
  • The community is mostly white (and Irish Catholic.)

It is rare that charter schools are inserted into schools in white communities. Many speakers pointed to the fact that the charter school law calls for them to be placed in areas where there are "failing" schools and that in that context the Hebrew Language Academy charter school makes no sense. I mean, don't expect HLA to go to Bed-Stuy, despite the fact that there are thousands of parents who want their kids to learn Hebrew.

But you know something, if they did place it there people would line up for the two teachers in the room, the low class sizes and the other goodies. But we know that will never happen because the true purpose of HLA was to serve the Russian Jewish population in southern Brooklyn and the so-called diversity their speakers bragged about was not in evidence other than some token speakers and they have been unwilling to provide exact figures.

Now, I don't agree with the argument that charters should go into only certain areas of the city. I and another GEM speaker were the only ones who opposed the concept of charters as undermining the public schools and challenged Steinhardt's daughter Sara Berman and her supporters to fight for low class sizes and two teachers in a room for every child in the city.

Where was the UFT?
One thing was very clear in the IS 278 situation: The UFT played no role. How could they oppose the placing of a charter in a middle school when they did exactly that at George Gershwin MS in East NY - IS 166 - (my Alma Mata)? And they also have one in an elementary school. Ed Notes and ICE have opposed the UFT charter schools.

Commenters touched on issues race and power.

Ira Goldfine
The scary part of this is that it may be a victory for IS 278 but its going to be a defeat for some other school when they try to dump this charter elsewhere. I hope the people in the long neglected poorer part of Distict 22 are watching out for their schools because I wonder if those same politicians will defend them the same way they defended IS 278.

The politics of this is very uncomfortable. Although this is a great victory for IS 278. Why haven't other schools been able to win this kind of battle? Why all know the answer to this question & it is very disturbing.

LQuinlan replied

First off, HLA will now be leasing their space, most likely from the Diocese of Brooklyn, so no other public school will have to fight. This is what they should have been doing from the beginning but they no doubt preferred the free ride they were getting from the DOE.

Secondly, I don't know what anonymous was implying about why this campaign was so successful. I tend to think it was the outpouring of the community: Nearly 1000 people attended the hearing, thousands of calls were received by 311 and over 6000 signatures were collected on petitions from the community. Show me another school that put forth that kind of effort and maybe then you can compare the outcome. I think we succeeded because it was a well thought out, well-executed plan and believe me when I tell you, more was planned for the future. Don't turn it into something it's not.

HLA was wise to make the decision that they did. I wish them luck even though I do not believe in their mission. I hope Klein and the DOE will recognize that this community deserves a voice in the future of 278 and that we'll never have to deal with that smug, condescending John White ever again.

There's a load of implications in this interchange. Do politicians favor white communities or do they respond to the numbers? LQuinlan points to a remarkable organizing effort. I was told 200 press releases were sent out. Only Ed Notes and Channel 5 responded and you saw almost no press coverage of the event. And there still seems to be news blackout of what I think was one of the most remarkable outpourings of opposition to the arrogance and power of BloomKlein.

HLA may have been the trigger - there are some whispers that if it was not a Hebrew charter the opposition would not have been as great - but I do not get the impression that anti-semitism was at play and there would have been vigorous opposition to any charter.

Calls of "This is America"
There were other issues. When a translator got up to announce in Spanish that translation was available, there were shouts of "Speak English" and "This is America." You could just imagine what was going through the minds of the HLA supporters and the DOE officials. And the progressive ed reformers who came out in support. This certainly didn't come from a majority of people, but that was not a pretty sight. Someone with guts (not me) should have asked for a Hebrew translation.

Certainly this was a volatile crowd and when the HLA people got up to speak it was raucous at times. The DOE people got a taste of what teachers face running an auditorium program. It was the organizers who kept the crowd under control. They not only knew what they were doing in organizing this event but their political instincts are right on.

Would they support other schools in other neighborhoods or even schools in Marine Park that are forced to take a charter? GEM tried to make the connection when we spoke. When people came over to thank us for speaking, we did raise the issue that people in Harlem are in the same position and we hoped they would be there for them.

I do think some of the organizers are part of the bigger battles on mayoral control now that they have seen the power exercised and fought off "successfully."

Did the DOE lose?
I put "successfully" in quotes for a reason. When people asked at the meeting if it was a done deal, the response was that Klein would hear what people said and make a decision. Sure. I told the DOE guy I would bet him it was a done deal and no matter what happened that night, BloomKlein wouldn't back down.
Raymond commented:

Happy to hear that HLA is withdrawing its request for a charter school at IS 278 This is Great news the middle class Marine Park neighborhood finally wins one for the community and the kids. Cheers for all that showed up at the meetings and showed their support. Great Job everyone. PS I was wrong the decision was not made. Glad to be wrong on this one.Delete

I'm sorry to bust the balloon.

The decision was made. Klein would have ruled in their favor. The DOE did not back off. HLA withdrew. You just had to watch the look on their faces (I did take video of their reactions but the weather has been too nice for me to get to it) to see that they realized that if they went into the school in September, these kinds of protests would never end and it would all end in a fiasco of unimaginable proportions. Give them credit for understanding that much.
The DOE still holds the cards
Remember, John White from the DOE was suddenly offering IS 278 the high school they were fighting for for the past few years in exchange for accepting the charter school. Will that deal be pulled off the table? Will there be other ways to retaliate against the IS 278 community so the fever doesn't spread? (In some other schools that resisted the DOE, the principal came under attack later on. Remember,in DOE-ville, the school leader is supposed to put a stop to these things.) The standard tactic of totalitarian mentalities is to punish as a lesson for others.

There were enough speakers who went beyond the charter school issue to attack the mayor's control of the school system in a community that he counted on for votes and support. That is a warning sign to BloomKlein that even after they get mayoral control renewed, there will be another sunset provision and the battle will continue.


People are inspiredAnonymous
Triple3 said

This is amazing. I am so happy for this community and applaud the huge efforts that were made. My name is Elva Croston and I am a concerned parent with a child who attends PS 160 in Co-op City in the Bronx. The DOE has already approved a middle school/high school charter to be housed in this "tiny" elementary school. Although, some parents are divided on this issue, the majority of parents are saying "NO". We had a march today to oppose this which can be seen on Bronx news 12. Another hearing is set for June due to a technicality on the charters original application. Apparently, the charter was already approved and set to open in District 12 but then the DOE decided to place them in District 11 without notifying the community first. The biggest mistake we made as a community is listening to those who think this move would be a good idea. The DOE is standing their ground to open the charter in September. But guess what.... so will the parents!

Anonymous LQuinlan said...

Elva, I wish you and your community the best of luck. It's time to wrest the power away from the mayor and get it back where it belongs- the educators and the parents.

See excellent videos and comments at


LQuinlan said...

While our community might be "white," our student body at I.S. 278 is overwhelmingly not. According to the 2008-2009 Quality Review:

Marine Park is a middle school with 1041 students from grade 6 through grade 8. The
school population comprises 57% Black, 12% Hispanic, 25% White, and 6% Asian
students. The student body includes 4% English language learners and 16% special
education students. Boys account for 50% of the students enrolled and girls account for
50%. The average attendance rate for the school year 2006 - 2007 was 91.6%. The
school is in receipt of Title 1 funding with 61% eligibility.

The European American students are actually the minority at 278. I wish our majority students had been better represented at our meetings and at the DOE hearing. All were invited.

I know firsthand how many media outlets were contacted and how few responded. Isn't it frightening that the mayor has such control over what New Yorkers are "allowed" to know? We're a "disgrace" if we ask.

I'm sure Bloomberg's campaign workers were in for a surprise when they started to ring Marine Park doorbells this past week. For all the positive press he receives, I don't know a single person who plans to vote for him in this questionable election. Do I see another media driven campaign on the horizon?

ed notes online said...

Excellent points. Given the numbers and based on the audience at the hearing, I didn't see all that many black representatives. I assume there is some degree of busing. Curious as to whether the push for a high school is part of the equation of creating a greater white presence in the school. On the surface, it wouldn't seem to make much difference.

Where to neighborhood white kids go? Parochial schools? Are any closing? Being turned into charters? Lots of balls in the air here.

Unknown said...

Don't forget that in the past few years, P.S. 207 became a K-8, effectively syphoning off large numbers of students from the neighborhood. Many others apply to Mark Twain and a large portion go to Cunningham. A handful go to either Good Shepherd or St. Edmund's when it comes time for middle school.

Marine Park lost most of the community before Ms. Garofalo became principal and the administration was in constant flux. Busing was initiated to fill the void, which propagated the problem further as neighborhood residents stayed away in droves. We're on the road to recovery and with a high school on the horizon, things would certainly look up for our community.

In an ideal world, all children would go to their local schools and get an excellent education right in the community in which they live. As we saw at the hearing, those that live in the community where they are educated have time and geography on their side when it comes to being involved in the day to day activity at their schools.

formerly LQuinlan