Wednesday, March 7, 2018

School Scope - Norm in The WAVE -- Drilling down on Rockaway Schools Being Saved by the Bell

I wrote this in a little over an hour on Tuesday morning on a tight deadline since I had to leave for a press event at the Museum of Natural History. I was going to recycle my post from Ed Notes - Analysis: The Story Behind the PEP  - but it was too long and unwieldy -- I don't know how anyone got through it without falling asleep. I have a word limit in print so doing this forced me to focus on efficiency. (Maybe I should put a word count on all my blog posts.) I think this is more clean-cut and clearer than the blog post.

This should be in this Friday's WAVE - March 9, 2018 -- jeez, it's almost spring - as I watch the snow and sleet coming down.
School Scope: PS/MS 42, MS 53 Saved By the Bell in a 6-6-1 PEP Vote at 2:15 AM

The Story Behind the PEP Rockaway Vote - It Came Down to One Guy Abstaining – Did de Blasio play a role?

By Norm Scott

The expected final chapter for two historic Rockaway schools was not written at a grueling 8 hour Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting that began on Feb. 28 and ended in the middle of the night on March 1. Last week’s WAVE’s excellent front page story by Ralph Mancini blasted the news under the headline “Stayin’ Alive.” I had left before 2 AM, assuming both Rockaway schools were dead after a procedural vote to withdraw them from the closing list made by Queens rep Deborah Dellingham went down to defeat – twice. The 13-member PEP consists of appointees by the 5 borough presidents and 8 appointed by the mayor, thus giving him control of the PEP and the entire school system (sad). With about a dozen schools on the closing list, each borough rep had made a proposal to have their schools withdrawn (to shouts of “WITHDRAW from the overflowing crowd of about a thousand people, almost all there to oppose the closings). The 5 boroughs stuck together and one mayoral appointee, Elzora Cleveland, voted with the borough people a number of times while the other 7 mayoral appointees, who could be “fired” from the panel for going against de Blasio’s wishes, voted down all the withdrawal proposals. The repeated 7-6 votes against were frustrating.

In my 2 minute speech ( I pointed this out. That the fates of hundreds of teachers and thousands of students and parents depended on just one of two mayoral appointees doing the right thing. I also pointed out that if closing down these schools was Carmen Farina’s last act as Chancellor, this was a sad end to her career. The experience reinforced my feeling that handing total control of the school system to one person – the mayor – is a mistake.

Anyway, I got disgusted – and my batteries were dead so I couldn’t add to my 6 and a half hours of video and I'm on the 4 train at 2:15 AM and my phone rings. I figure it's my wife to yell at me again (she had called at midnight). But instead it was Jamie Haberstumpf from PS 42 telling me they’re not closed and neither is MS 53 due to a 6-6-1 vote since one of the mayoral appointees had abstained. I was so sorry I had not stayed and taken the seat on their bus home to join in the celebration -- I bet the wheels never hit the road. In reality there was some confusion of exactly what had happened.

It turned out that Queens resident and mayoral appointee Isaac Carmignani was the abstaining vote, but only for the Rockaway schools. He had voted to close all the other schools. If he wanted to save the Rockaway schools why not just vote a firm NO to closing them instead of abstaining? OK, he may be a would-be politician, so sitting on the fence is endemic to the profession. I am speculating, along with others, that Carmignani might have political ambitions and may not have wanted to offend the Queens politicians or their reps who showed up at the PEP to support the schools. Stacey Pfeffer-Amato was there to speak as an MS 53 alum. Donavan Richards also spoke. Lew Simon had a statement read. As did borough president Melinda Katz. She and her appointee Debora Dellingham played important roles. As did the NAACP with its threatened law suit. Let’s not forget the rally the PS/MS 42 people and the NAACP held outside Katz’ office a few weeks ago, which brought the struggle to her door. The UFT was very supportive of the schools, especially the Queens office and anyone who runs for office locally would want the UFT on their side.

PS/MS 42 put up a massive struggle and showed up at the PEP in force. After they rallied outside, what a thrill to see them all come marching in with the hurt-your-eyes bright green tee-shirts. No school was close to the work they did over the past 2 months. There was no school close to being as active. There are a lot of heroes in their battle but I don’t want to name them because I’m sure I would be leaving someone out. And I also worry about teachers becoming targets. They know who they are.

Eva Moskowitz’ avaricious Success Charter school was already measuring the space for the expected vacated MS 53 which may be a target next year since what Eva wants Eva usually gets. The idea was to get rid of MS 53 this time and then load up Village Academy, the other public school in the building, with students who need more resources until they too were considered a failing school to be closed. And then Eva gets the entire building. That may still be the plan, but only delayed by the Carmignani vote. (I bet he gets no campaign contributions from her.)

It is interesting that MS 53 did not organize a major fight as did PS/MS 42, yet both their fates for now are the same. Did all the work PS/MS 42 did make a difference? I think their willingness to struggle and the way they organized made it clear to people that this is a still vibrant school community worth saving. How disappointed must be Farina, who schlepped out to the school on Feb. 15 to sell the two replacement schools. The plan was supposedly to put in a separate principal for the middle school, add a STEAM component and partner the schools with other Queens schools. We think the real reason was to get rid of the teachers and students and make the news schools attractive to new people moving in. I think people should take a good look at the school before rejecting it. A school that fights so hard to stay alive deserves some love.

There must be more to the MS 53 story --- any people at the school with info, touch base with me or Ralph Mancini. Did MS 53 ride in on the PS 42 coat tails? With a new chancellor, will one or both schools be back on a closing list next year? Can anything be done starting now to help them? If either school has exciting programs it wants to share with the public contact me. I make house calls.

There’s one more intriguing rumor floating around. That de Blasio was OK with the Carmegnani vote. That he had lost faith in Farina and not letting her close these schools was a knife in her back. Or maybe it was Putin.

Norm blogs about all things education and politics at

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