The Department has proposed the closing of 22 schools, fifteen of them high schools. Although the accompanying press releases give “reasons” for the closing of each school the process is baffling in that other schools, with worse data were not recommended for closing.
The new governance law requires a comment period and a public hearing in the district before a final vote by the PEP, the replacement for the central board. A majority of the PEP is appointed by the mayor, and, with the exception of Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan Boro Prez appointee the panel has routinely approved each and every contract and policy proposed by the chancellor.
If a school community can create a campaign opposing the closing proposal, with parents and teachers and community members, is it possible that the PEP will postpone or reverse the closing proposal?
We may find out as some of the schools that are proposed for closing are beginning to fight back.
A roadmap for a campaign,
* Build Broad, Loud, Raucous Coalitions Representing the School Community: Parents, Community Organizations, Teachers and Especially the Electeds.
Last spring the Department proposed placing the Hebrew Charter School in IS 278, a standing room only audience, including all the local electeds vigorously opposed the placement. The Department not only did not place the charter school in the building the charter school itself found space in a local parochial school.
In our interconnected world the meeting was up on the web.
Electeds love to stand in front of large crowds of voters and rip into the mayor, whose popularity has waned considerably in the boroughs. Boro presidents, who each control one vote on the PEP are especially important.
Religious leaders have close relationships with the families that attend our schools. Too often we ignore faith-based leaders, they can be crucial allies.
* Never Blame the Kids.
Unfortunately I have heard too many teachers scree, “…if only they didn’t send us these terrible kids.” The current school evaluation system at the high school level uses credit accumulation and Regents grades as core metrics. I visited a high school with very high achievement and watched very mediocre instruction, Bushwick Community High School, a transfer school was placed on the SURR list, the SED Team Leader was so impressed with the school he said he would happily send his kids to the school.
The kids are the one constant, it is our ability as teachers that can be changed, modified and improved. It is more challenging and requires different skills and different school organizations to be successful with kids from low SES environments, many schools are quite successful. Blaming the kids is a failed strategy that will alienate all you are trying to influence.
“You Can’t Go Home Again,” Schools Will Either Be Restructured or Closed, They Will Not Be Allowed to Continue Unchanged.
Schools on the closing list frequently point to their “successes,” usually a handful of kids who won awards or other achievements. They don’t address the majority of kids who don’t graduate, who don’t come to school regularly, who don’t accumulate credits and who don’t pass Regents exams.
There are a number of highly regarded “turnaround” strategies and programs, schools should carefully review what’s out there and create plan for their own school. Take a look here and here. The UFT Teacher Centers are truly experts and can work with school staffs to reconfigure instructional programs.
To defend what has not been working well enough is not an effective strategy.
Leadership At the Tweed, Superintendent and Principal Level is Deeply Flawed.
Attacking the mayor, Tweed and the superintendent creates the flavor of political discomfort that can have political impact. New small schools are wary about entering a school where they are not welcome, parents are wary about sending their kids to tense, unwelcoming environments and funders avoid conflict.
Maybe it’s unfortunate but the parent/community member at IS 278 who pointed her finger at the Hebrew Charter School representative and “raised her voice,” on the net, was a lot more effective than “civilized” conversation.
Getting Out the Word: the Involvement of the Media: TV, Print and the Web, Is Essential.
Editors seek stories that will fix eyes on pages or screens. The recent cause celebre at James Madison High School was front page in the dailies and featured on 6 PM news. (“If it bleeds, it leads”). The effective use, misuse, abuse, of the media is a skill. Seek professional help!! Communications outlets look for the story of the day, you are mounting a campaign.
Use the web! A web page with video and links, updated regularly is an essential tool. It may not be the validity of the idea, it may be the thousands of “hits.” Facebook, Twitter, all part of our interconnected world.
All Politics is Local.
Building a campaign starts at the bottom and is driven from the bottom up. Meetings, flyers, buttons, rallies, press releases, meetings with local electeds, community-based organizations, faith-based leaders, interactive web-based applications, carefully integrated, building toward a particular meeting or decision date, with an achievable strategy and a goal.
An organizational structure: phone trees, email lists, regular communications bottom up and top down, specific tasks with accountability and responsibility. Frequent internal communications and agility, changing strategy and tactics as the situation changes.
When the dust settles I suspect that most, if not all, of the proposed school closing will come to fruition. But, at what cost to the administration?
From the mayors side: Is leaving the fray victorious but bruised and bloodied worth the fight? The State Senate punted, and avoided the necessary cuts to balance this year’s budget (fiscal year ends 3/31), next year the gap is 9 billion dollars, a staggering figure. The city budget is also bleeding. Citizens chant the old acronym, NIMBY, “not in my backyard.”
Is closing 22 schools worth the “agita” considering the public dismay over wave after wave of cuts down the road?