Friday, March 2, 2018

Rockaway Schools PS/MS 42 and MS 53: Stayin’ Alive! - The WAVE

More great work by Ralph Mancini who shlepped out from Rockaway to cover the story once again. He asked me to text him the outcome of the vote when he left about 11:30. I left just before 2 AM and had assumed both Rockaway schools were dead when a procedural vote to withdraw the schools made by Queens rep Deborah Dellingham appointed by Boro Pres Melinda Katz, went down by a vote of 7-5, with all mayoral appointees voting against and all borough reps for.

So I left. About 2:15 AM while I'm on the 4 train headed for Atlantic Ave my phone rings. I figure it's my wife to yell at me again (she had called at midnight). But instead it was Jaime from PS 42 telling me about the 6-6-1 vote. She had offered me a seat home on their bus but my car was in Brooklyn. I was so bummed I wasn't on that bus ride at 3 AM -- I bet the wheels never hit the road.

I still need to talk to Jaime, who is a hero in this epic struggle in the eyes of many, before writing my analysis of what may have happened. She is a force of nature.

The guy in the photo, Jack Angelou, is one fantastic guy, someone I would be proud to march with and go into battle anywhere. I want Jack in my foxhole, along with Jaime and John (Kattinger, CL - a Unity guy who I developed enormous respect for) and Sarah and Kevin - a most amazing parent (PS 42 Parents Speak Up for Teachers and Their Children).

Stayin’ Alive!

PEP vote deadlock keeps Rockaway schools open

PS/MS 42 educator Jack Angelou lets the stats speak for themselves in making a case for the survival of his school. 

Photo By Ralph Mancini

After nearly nine hours of testimonies on the part of multiple members of various New York City school communities, a vote to shut down a pair of Rockaway schools, PS/MS 42 and MS 53, was called off, giving the at-risk facilities a new lease on life.

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, a Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voting session, held at Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan, was held to decide the fate of chronically-struggling public schools.

One committee member elected to abstain from the process, resulting in a 6-6 deadlock at around 3 a.m.

The Twitter account of PS/MS 42 art teacher Sarah Zaborowski said it all, when she announced that in the early morning of March 1, her school has “lived to fight another day” after a relentless effort by faculty, students and their families to stave off its closing by the Department of Education (DOE).

The discord between the group of voters, including outgoing Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, was evident from the start with a number of PEP members proposing postponements and outright withdrawal from having to submit their votes on the Renewal locations that have been on the chopping block since Dec. 16.
The concerns from both the teachers and parents were palpable in the minutes preceding the public event as documented by MS 53 special education teacher Daniel Alicea, who informed The Wave that the careers of many educators were hanging in the balance depending on the outcome.

“It leaves us with a lot of anxiety of not knowing what your future is and especially when we’ve invested so much in our school community—it hurts,” said the 22-year veteran. “It leaves a lot of question marks for us and our livelihoods depend on it. The way the system works, a lot of the teachers become what they call ATRs.”

By reducing tenured teachers to Absent Teacher Reserve status, many professionals in the Far Rockaway Renewal schools risked being reassigned to substitute for absent colleagues within any given school district.

The children of the community would also be greatly impacted, according to invested stakeholders and school advocates, such as Betsy Combier, a New York City-based paralegal, who noted that losing teachers that students have built up trust in could be especially discouraging to English Language Learners (ELL) and the special-needs population.

As a father of two, Kevin Dyer admitted being very “stressed” at coming to terms with the possibility of his daughters being taught by new faculty members that may not be suited to work with youngsters of the surrounding community, some of whom live in shelters or are abused or neglected individuals under the guidance of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

Furthermore, Dyer made The Wave aware of his disapproval of how the DOE has managed Renewal schools by failing to afford them ample time to make the necessary strides in achieving elevated performance levels.

“Education is an investment. We tell kids K-12 is an investment and you don’t cash in on it until you get the diploma. So, you can’t put into practice a Renewal program in 2015 and expect this mammoth growth in two years and then close the school,” said the native of Seattle, who formerly served as a case worker in a juvenile detention center.

“I would say assess it for two years. If you then see growth with a school like 42, continue the program for another two years to see what works and what doesn’t. But you can’t scrap the entire idea and start from scratch under the guise of a new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program, a new curriculum, new extracurricular activities. You can give all that to us and leave 42 open.”

Dyer’s sentiments on the DOE’s hasty decision making was shared by Councilman and Education Committee Chair Mark Treygar, who pointed out that Renewal schools have been dealt a losing hand from the outset by having to cope with unrealistic timelines and ill-defined expectations.

The Brooklyn-based elected official and one-time history teacher also took issue with the branding of Renewal schools as bottom-ranked sites that can’t hit their benchmarks. That stigma, he added, has led to decreased enrollment numbers that are now being used against the schools in question.

“It’s a troubling self-fulfilling prophecy. Improvement to Renewal schools were measured on a three-year time [plan] and yet by the DOE’s own community framework, it takes four to five years to show [improvement],” argued Treygar.

Another elected official that took the embattled governing agency to task was Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato, as she called out the powers that be for their inability to relate to a Rockaway community that remains detached from the rest of the city by two bridges and Nassau County.

As a former student of MS 53, she mentioned the gradual steps the Far Rockaway institution is making, while apprising the panel that many of their middle school students fall into the ELL category, placing them in an obvious disadvantage compared to other city locations.

“It’s a tough school,” she stated, and with the proper investments, “it will succeed,” assured the local legislator.

Similarly, representatives of PS/MS 42 made a case for their survival by highlighting the fact that of all the New York City K-8 schools, theirs was the one that has demonstrated the largest percentage point growth from 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 in math (6.5) and ELA (10.5) combined.

What’s more, PS/MS 42 reportedly has the highest percentage rating for rigorous instruction (86 percent) for all New York City K-8 renewal schools.

Had the panel voted to shut down both sites, Combier apprised The Wave of plans to file an injunction in a court of law on the grounds of the immediate damage that decision would inflict on several communities. But for now—to the pleasure of many of the school supporters—it looks as though that type of legal action won’t be needed.

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