The other night three of us from Jamaica High School traveled over to Bryant High School in Western Queens for their Joint Public Hearing. The city wants to close this great school, and twenty-five others, including seven more large high schools in Queens. The city would shut the schools on June 30 and reopen them the following day with a new name and around half of the staff would be new.
Teachers would have to reapply for their jobs to stay at their old schools. This so called turnaround model is being used by the city because they couldn't reach an agreement with the UFT on teacher evaluation. I strongly believe the city wants to be able to fire as many teachers as possible because, in spite of scholarly research to the contrary, it is their contention that it is the teachers who are solely to blame if students don't graduate.
The Bryant experience was painful for me because it is somewhat similar to what happened at Jamaica High school the last two years where DOE officials came to our school for Joint Public Hearings. DOE officials at the hearings ignored everything parents, students, alumni, teachers and community activists had to say about how we had a good, viable school that should be kept open. We were phased out by the Panel for Educational Policy in 2010 and remained open thanks to a lawsuit but the DOE closed us again in 2011 and still another lawsuit is pending on that closure. Many of us remain at Jamaica as the school phases out and we are saddened on a daily basis as our students are shortchanged in their educational experience.
Listening to our friends at Bryant, they made so many good arguments about how their fine school is a big part of the community, how there are many English Language Learners and Special Education students who needed extra time to graduate, how the alumni wanted to see their school continue and how there was so much history there, how Bryant's SAT scores beat the city average, how the kids were afraid of losing some excellent teachers and more. DOE officials looked bored sitting on the stage and they trotted out their usual cherry-picked data to show that Bryant High School is having problems while not pointing to any statistic that makes the school look good.
UFT Treasurer Mel Aaronson spoke against the closure for the Union as did District Representative James Vasquez and LIC High School Chapter Leader Ken Achiron. Sam Lazarus, Bryant's Chapter Leader, made an excellent presentation as did other members of the Bryant School Leadership Team and the local Community Education Council. All speakers wanted to see Bryant remain open. My turn came a little later as someone generously handed me their speaking ticket. (I had a very high number).
I told the nearly full auditorium how the DOE will promise resources but they will never end up in the classroom. As an example I talked about how Jamaica's building previously had advanced placement classes in history, English, math, science and second language and now the whole building (new schools included) only has one remaining AP class. I also spoke about the great programs we had that are now gone. I told the gathering that DOE officials are only at Bryant because the law says they have to be there to hold this meeting. The mayor's eight appointees on the Panel for Educational Policy can outvote the five borough President appointees on every issue and the mayor's people do what DOE wants. However, I don't think this fight to keep schools open is futile.
I closed my remarks by saying that even though the situation does not look good for any of us, we can win this battle but we must take it to the state. It was the State Legislature and Governor that gave the mayor control of the schools and the power to close schools. The state can take that power away from the mayor today. It's time for us to push for an end the mayoral dictatorship and an end to the mayor's right to close schools. We need to hold the State Legislature responsible for the incalculable damage that Mayor Bloomberg is doing to the schools. We should start this campaign immediately before more lives are ruined by this awful school governance system that is antithetical to democracy.
I truly hope that we can regain some semblance of a school system before it is too late.