Residents, Pols Challenge DOE Plans To Phase Out PS 114
With only days left before the Panel for Educational Policy’s scheduled vote on the proposal to phase-out P.S. 114 Ryder Elementary School, local politicians and community members put aside differences and combined efforts in order to challenge the Educational Impact Statement (EIS) released by the Department of Education (DOE) this past December.
The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the matter EIS at Brooklyn Technical High School this evening at 6 p.m.
At a public hearing held last Friday at the Remsen Avenue school, parents, teachers, students and residents packed the school’s auditorium. In a gesture of solidarity, teachers wore United Federation of Teachers (UFT) tee shirts and students had on sandwich boards with words of protest. Legislators and members of the District 18 Community Educational Council (CEC) were also in attendance to voice their disapproval over the DOE’s plan that would close the century-old school and phase in a new elementary school, P.S. 521, as well as a charter school, Explore, Excel Charter School, this fall.
The phase-out proposal is the result of P.S. 114’s poor academic performance over the past five years. Dozens of people signed up to speak during the community feedback portion of the hearing and were each told to have two minutes to speak, although that was nearly impossible to enforce.
As New York City Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky made his opening statement, City Councilman Charles Barron rushed to the stage and expressed his disgust with the DOE.
“You want to phase something out? You should phase out the DOE,’’ Barron said. The councilman was cheered by the crowd as he complained to Polakow-Suransky and District 18 Community Superintendent Beverly Wilkins that he would not stay at the hearing since the DOE was not seriously taking into consideration the community’s appeal. After Barron spoke, he walked out of the auditorium to cheers and applause.
The school received poor performance reviews under former principal Maria Penaherrera. She was removed in 2009, but left the school with a $180,000 debt. An investigation revealed that the school funds were allegedly for her personal use. While Penaherrera was principal, the school went into a decline. Local legislators later maintained that the DOE should have removed her sooner.
After her removal, to remain within its budget, the school had to make some drastic cuts that included afterschool programs, visual arts and music programs, gifted and talented programs, and academic intervention programs.
City Councilman Lew Fidler was greeted with a standing ovation before he addressed the DOE. Fidler has been responsible for raising over $1 million dollars to aid P.S. 114 over the years.
“I put my money where my mouth is,” Fidler explained. “I believe in public schools.”
He said the DOE currently has the opportunity to tell new Schools Chancellor Cathie Black that she can work with the community to turn the school around, but replacing “a failing school with new schools is not the answer.”
Last Thursday evening, Barron, Fidler, State Assemblymembers Nick Perry and Alan Maisel, who were also at the hearing, and State Senator John Sampson held a conference call with the DOE, requesting that P.S. 114 be given two years to improve its performance before being phased out.
“I will work with this chancellor to turn this school around,” Fidler promised the crowd. “I’m pleading with you. Give us the chance to work with you.”
Students presented boxes of letters and drawings from classmates to express their dissatisfaction with the DOE’s plan. Testimonies from former students about their educational experiences and fond memories elicited a touch of sentimentality by the audience.
At the close of the hearing, the deputy chancellor made no promises and remarked, “We haven’t done what we needed to support you. That is loud and clear.”
“I can’t commit that we are going to change our proposal,’’ Polakow- Suransky added.
He commended the community for their dedication and told them that the DOE wants to create a structure that will work for both students and teachers. He agreed to relay the evening’s comments and protests to Chancellor Black.
The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the matter at Brooklyn Technical High School this evening at 6 p.m.