Thursday, December 3, 2009

PS 241, Portrait of a Harlem School, 2008-2009

This powerful summary of the last school year from an educator at PS 241 in Harlem exposes the predatory practices many of the charters schools and their partners the BloomKlein administration engage in and that many of their school closings are politically motivated, in essence a real estate grab for charters. A classic case of how the quasi stewards of the NYC public school system work as quislings to undermine the very institution they have sworn to fix. I'll just pull a few quotes as a preview to emphasize this point:

A charter school [Eva Moskowitz' Harlem Success Academy], had sent hundreds of their parents to the hearing to lay claim to our building. We were repeatedly referred to as failures throughout this hearing. The charter school representatives asserted that our school should be completely replaced with their school. There were many things disturbing about that hearing and its disrespectful tone, but nothing more so than the charter school's refusal to commit to enrolling all of our students if they did, in fact, take over our building. Some parents of PS 241 students attended school in our building as children themselves. They were now being told that, should the charter get our school building, their children would have to win a seat in a lottery to gain admission. No plan was offered for lottery losers.

In early April, the Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education sent letters to the families of PS 241, in an attempt to persuade them to leave our school.

In May, PS 241 again appeared in the New York newspapers. This time, however, it was announced that we had made the top 10 list of New York City’s MOST IMPROVED SCHOOLS that had the greatest test score gains.

The following 2009-2010 school year had over 200 students report for the first day of school. This was about 50-60 fewer students than the previous year. Nearly half of PS 241's staff are now gone. As we moved further into the month of September our community received the news that we had earned an A on our annual school report card for the previous 2008-2009 school year. It was a small consolation for the Department of Education's maltreatment of PS 241 and for the loss to our community. The news was taken in stride, there was work to be done, routines to set, students to understand and teach.

PS 241 continues to fight for its survival even though we are now considered an A school. The Department of Education is not only phasing out our Middle School, but it also denied us a pre-kindergarten class that we've had for the many years and for which we received 20 applications. They are now working more covertly to replace our school.

Related: The UFT, which helped file the suit, has since sat back and will allow PS 241 to be undermined. What weren't they allowed to begin a pre-k despite 20 applications? How about a suit about that clear sign the DOE would chop at PS 241 until Eva Moskowitz had the entire building for her empire? Harlem Success, by the way, which has no charter for pre-k, illegally has pre-k as part of their program by calling it something else.


PS 241, Portrait of a Harlem School, 2008-2009
by an educator at the school who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous

[Meaning, this person will probably end up as an ATR, with demands he/she be fired if he/she doesn't get a job within a year and a google search of his/her name if out there would doom him/her - a perfect example of the real reason we have tenure - to defend the people who really stand up for kids and their community from reprisals.]


In December of 2008 the PS 241 community was informed by the Department of Education that our school would be closed down. This news was reported in most of the New York newspapers. What followed was a school year filled with confusion, anger, frustration, a lawsuit, intimidation and, at times, a little bit of celebrating.

During the 2007-2008 school year, PS 241 received a D grade on its annual school report card; this followed a B grade the previous year. The fact that our school needed to improve was understood by the teachers, students and families of our community. What caused great confusion was how abruptly the decision to close our school was made and that no input from anyone in our community was sought. The Department of Education had rendered their verdict and thought that would be the end of our story. They were wrong.

In January, a hearing was announced and presided over by the Department of Education. It quickly deteriorated into a yelling match that pitted charter school parents against the PS 241 community. A charter school [Eva Moskowitz' Harlem Success Academy], had sent hundreds of their parents to the hearing to lay claim to our building. We were repeatedly referred to as failures throughout this hearing. The charter school representatives asserted that our school should be completely replaced with their school. There were many things disturbing about that hearing and its disrespectful tone, but nothing more so than the charter school's refusal to commit to enrolling all of our students if they did, in fact, take over our building. Some parents of PS 241 students attended school in our building as children themselves. They were now being told that, should the charter get our school building, their children would have to win a seat in a lottery to gain admission. No plan was offered for lottery losers. We all struggled to understand what would happen next.

In early February and into March teachers, support staff, students and parents from PS 241 began to organize a petition to stop the Department of Education's plan to close our school. Several hundred signatures of support were collected.

In March one of our fifth grade classes and their teacher testified before District 3's Community Education Council about their anger regarding our school's closure, but more specifically their anger over being called failures. Many students stood up to speak on that night, but one fifth grade student put it this way, "I am not failing and neither are my classmates. So why are they calling me a failure and planning to close my school?" This question was never sufficiently
answered.

As we moved further into the month of March members of PS 241, the District 3 Community Education Council, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the UFT came together to file a lawsuit on behalf of the entire PS 241 community against the Department of Education and their plan. We weren’t willing to give up our school, especially to a charter school that wouldn't enroll all of our students. New York City is divided into zones and state law mandates that each of these zones have a public school, one where every child living in that zone can attend. The Department of Education could not replace PS 241, who accepts everyone in the community, with a charter school that would not. They did not contest the lawsuit and withdrew their plan to close our elementary school. The plan to phase out our middle school, however, would move forward.

In early April, the Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education sent letters to the families of PS 241, in an attempt to persuade them to leave our school. The Chancellor was essentially asking families to abandon our school community at a time when we needed to come together. We struggled to comprehend why he would encourage our families and students to abandon their school community. Why didn’t the Chancellor offer us real support and encourage us to work harder, smarter and to come together?

In May, PS 241 again appeared in the New York newspapers. This time, however, it was announced that we had made the top 10 list of New York City’s MOST IMPROVED SCHOOLS that had the greatest test score gains. We were one of only two Manhattan schools to make the list. The other, PS 150, had also been slated for closure by the Department of Education back in December.

Despite the test score gains and the lawsuit, the Department of Education continued to move forward with their plan to give the charter school operator, Harlem Success Academy, a huge part of our classroom space. They were in and out of our classrooms during the last month of the school year, analyzing our space for renovations. Teachers and students, who occupied future charter school classrooms, were made to relocate during the school day so that renovations could
be completed. Teachers boxed up their classroom supplies and materials during the last week of school for removal at the conclusion of the school year.

The 2008-2009 school year came to an end quietly and without the celebration that often accompanies the last day of school. Many from our staff had plans to teach elsewhere the following year, while other's futures were less certain. What we all knew was that our school would be drastically different the following year and that PS 241's future was in doubt.

The following 2009-2010 school year had over 200 students report for the first day of school. This was about 50-60 fewer students than the previous year. Nearly half of PS 241's staff are now gone. As we moved further into the month of September our community received the news that we had earned an A on our annual school report card for the previous 2008-2009 school year. It was a small consolation for the Department of Education's maltreatment of PS 241 and for the loss to our community. The news was taken in stride, there was work to be done, routines to set, students to understand and teach.

PS 241 continues to fight for its survival even though we are now considered an A school. The Department of Education is not only phasing out our Middle School, but it also denied us a pre-kindergarten class that we've had for the many years and for which we received 20 applications. They are now working more covertly to replace our school.

Unfortunately, our story is not unique. School closures are becoming standard operating procedure for our country's educational leaders, many of whom are not educators themselves. PS 241's story has introduced many interesting questions for further exploration. Here are a few of mine:

Is giving up on a community of children ever wise?

Does (prematurely) closing a school deny a community of the opportunity to persevere and grow?

Is struggle an inherent part of the learning process for students, teachers and for schools?

Do schools require the same nurturing guidance that works so effectively with students?

Conversely, is the punitive approach that is so ineffective with struggling students just as ineffective when applied to schools?

Does closing schools improve our public system of education or make it worse?

Should public elementary schools be permitted to exclude anyone from their local community?

Should an education be won in a lottery?


To learn more about what is happening in our public schools, please visit these informative web sites:

Grassrootseducationmovement.com,
ednotesonline.com,
gothamschools.org,
nycparentschoolblog.com,
Coalitionforpubliceducation

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