Friday, September 10, 2010


Fighting Closure: A Report from William H. Maxwell HS (CTE):
by Seung OK

The legacy of Mayor Bloomberg and his reforms on education may very well be a footnote vilifying the extent of damage impacted on a generation of students in New York City. The story of Maxwell HS should be a canary in the mines of what’s to come for the rest of the city. Situated in East New York, Brooklyn - arguably one of the most difficult neighborhoods to learn and teach in – the school proudly ran vocational programs that actually placed students in viable careers.

The students in the optics program ran a free eyeglass clinic for all the students and staff in the building. Anyone who needed to replace their glasses came with their prescription or old frame. The students measured the lenses, cut new lenses, fitted them into new frames – and instead of paying 200 dollars, one received a new pair of glasses free of charge. Not only were students learning a valuable professional skill, but they were helping those in a community who may desperately need a new pair of glasses.

The students in the cosmetology program were not the most academically minded. If you remember the musical Grease, beauty school may not attract the next generation of Nobel peace prize winners. But that program was doing something that very few schools can claim – keeping struggling kids interested and motivated to come to school. The attendance of cosmetology students were among the highest at Maxwell. These same students that might otherwise shun a high school degree, could be seen hard at work in the barbering and nail technology labs. They would attend academic classes with their mannequin heads in hand and struggle through tough courses so they could continue what they loved to do.

Our health care students boasted of having the New York State president of the Health Occupations Students of America – a national student organization. Through internships in hospitals and instruction under a practicing physical therapist – our students have enrolled in medical and nursing programs throughout New York.

Just as in the case of Jamaica High School, all these programs are being abandoned by Mayor Bloomberg. Since our freshmen enrollment is down to 60 students – 30 teachers had to be excessed. At one point there were 300 students slated for our school, until the city violated the spirit of the judge’s ruling and sent out reselection letters to these students “in case” the city won the appeal. Our excessed cosmetology teacher is being replaced with a wood shop teacher from another school. There are not enough vision students to keep up the program. What was once a legitimate career alternative and stepping stone to college is now on the brink of vanishing.

Ironically, the mantra always touted by the mayor’s DOE is, “putting children first”. By not hearing the pleas of the students, parents and teachers in these “failing schools”, the mayor is putting his ego first. He has said as much in his radio program – where he denigrated the desires of parents to keep these schools open. The mayor’s seems intent on breaking the teacher’s union, and if that means putting the 1 million plus students in harms way, disenfranchising parents and their voices, and vilifying thousands of dedicated teachers – so be it. If the reformers win, it will be a pyrrhic victory – and history will show, there were will be very few winners to show for it.


Anonymous said...

Not good, perhaps he should change to Seung "Not" OK.

Marjorie Stamberg said...

Thanks to James and Seung for writing so powerfully about the situation at Maxwell, and Jamaica. Mulgrew's deal to allow the illegal co-locations is a stab in the back and a betrayal of all the work the teachers, parents, students have done to fight the DOE's closing schools agenda.

I strongly agree with Ellen that this situation cannot be fought school-by-school, but needs a joint response of people at the 19 schools. Concretely, I think we need to organize a citywide meeting of teachers, parents, students and staff from the 19 schools, as well as everyone else who wants to fight to keep these schools open and viable. And the first step towards this should be getting together activists from those schools.

It's late in the game, but it ain't over till it's over and there is still a lot that can be done. This includes a lot of people showing up at the E-board and the delegate assembly to raise hell about it, so that they cannot ignore it.

The key is to build a strong and broad mobilization of the UFT MEMBERSHIP to force the union leadership to take action, knowing full well that Mulgrew and the bureaucracy will fight this because they represent different interests. This is the strategy we acted on with the ATRs to force the union to act, leading to the November 2008 demonstration, which we forced the UFT to call. And although Randi et al. tried to undercut it (remember the "wine and cheese"?) it happened anyway and was a solid show of support for the ATRs.

At this point, I think we can demand that the UFT (not an individual school) immediately do fact-finding at each of the schools and go back to court on the grounds that implementation of the co-locations violates the intent of the court decision. Also that the UFT demand equity of all resources in the building, and that the UFT call for joint meetings of all chapters in the affected buildings including the new schools, to lay out the situation. This would be a way to reach out to their teachers, many of whom are new, and inexperienced and probably don't even know what they walked into.

Fighting this is not something any school can do on its own, no matter how organized.

--Marjorie Stamberg
UFT delegate,GED-Plus
Class Struggle Education Workers

NYC Educator said...

Interesting anonymous comment.

Hey, if the mayor's supporters are reduced to making idiotic juvenile cracks about the names of those who criticize them, maybe things aren't as bad as I thought.

Sang Terrific said...

But does he Sing Ok or just so-so?