Nineteen schools were slated to be closed for poor performance last night, as hundreds at Brooklyn Technical High School addressed city officials in statements of defiance, pride, and at times malice.
At the top of the meeting, Chancellor Joel I. Klein managed to utter a few words before he was drowned out by chants of “Fire the board!” Similar ones continued for the rest of the hearing, which lasted until the early morning hours after more than 300 spoke.
“The people who build our schools over generations has been communities, neighborhoods, parents, students, teachers, principals,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told the 13-member Panel for Educational Policy. “How can you possibly be the ones to only decide what schools remain and what schools close? It’s not right!”
Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz sent his appointee Gbubemi Okotieuro to introduce a resolution to postpone the vote until further analysis. It was defeated, with the panel’s five borough president appointees voting yes, and Mayor Bloomberg’s eight appointees voting no.
At nearly 3 a.m., the board voted to close the schools, which include three high schools and two middle schools in the borough.
Karen Greenwood, a guidance counselor at Meyer Levin School in Brooklyn, said this morning she wasn’t surprised by the decision, as students’ needs haven’t been addressed for years.
“What’s the fate of these children? There’s going to be disparity,” she said. “So then what happens?”
Gov. David Paterson, Klein and Bloomberg are huge proponents of charter schools, in direct opposition to many of the attendees who overwhelmingly seemed to opposed charter schools and called the closures an attack on low-income and special needs students. Paterson recently proposed to raise the cap in New York in accordance with Race to the Top, the $4.35-billion program that promises to grant school districts that meet its guidelines federal aid.
Stringer questioned the legality of the procedure, charging that his appointee had not received the proper documents. Hostility toward the board, Klein especially, increased as the night progressed. After stepping out for a few minutes, Klein returned to the auditorium to find the crowd chanting, “Where is Klein?” When the chancellor, known to fiddle with his Blackberry at previous hearings, wasn’t looking in their direction, speakers often said, “Klein, are you listening?” before resuming.
Amid the anger, there was a sense of community among schools. High school students formed Students Against School Closures and Charter Invasions, which includes schools across the boroughs. Brooklyn’s Paul Robeson High School, among those scheduled to close, was a visible presence in the auditorium, occupying the first few rows on one side in matching T-shirts. Student Body President Felicia Henry said the students held rallies at the school. News of the closure “was one of disappointment, but a fighting spirit,” she said.
In black T-shirts with their school number in bold, white text, roughly 60 staff members of P.S. 332 in Brownsville attended the hearing last night. They held signs of “Instruction NOT destruction,” galvanized by teacher and union chapter leader Vanecia Wilson’s declaration they would not be divided.
But this morning, there were only tears and disappointment at the school. In the fall, it will be replaced by four small schools.
“I refuse to work under a label of we have failed our children. We did not fail our children,” said Wilson, who along with several teachers showed up to work despite staying late to see the vote. “I walked around telling people, ‘Hold your head up. We’re still going to service our children.'”
19 schools to close
Metropolitan Corporate Academy
Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence
Paul Robeson High School
William H. Maxwell CTE High School
Christopher Columbus High School
Frederick Douglass Academy III’s middle school
Global Enterprise High School
Monroe Academy for Business/Law
New Day Academy
School for Community Research and Learning
Academy of Collaborative Education
Academy of Environmental Science
Choir Academy of Harlem
Norman Thomas High School
Beach Channel High School
Jamaica High School
School of Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship