2011-02-10 / This Week's Attitude

Unfair To Lump P.S. 114 In With Other Failing Schools

Thiis Week’’ s Attiitude
By Neil S. Friedman

Did anyone actually believe the hearings about the closing of Public School 114 and two dozen other low-performing public schools held across the city last week would change anything?

To satisfy the pent up anger of parents with students currently attending those schools, as well as fuming elected officials, teachers and their union executives, the Department of Education scheduled two separate nights to allow those voices to be heard.

And heard they were. Most accounts reported that the meetings turned into disruptive shouting matches. I didn’t attend, but from the media reports that followed, it was pretty ugly; perhaps equal to the hostility displayed at health care town meetings in 2009.

Mayor Bloomberg, who also didn’t attend either gathering, must have gotten an earful from a deputy mayor and new Schools Chancellor Cathie Black who did, scolded parents the following day, chastising them for acting uncivil and being an embarrassment to our country. “This is not a democracy, letting people yell and scream,” he told them. This mayor certainly knows a thing or two about democracy. After all, he was elected three times when citizens twice cast ballots for two-term limits for city representatives. This is the same mayor who made commendable changes when he took over the city schools to reorganize its uncontrolled bureaucracy and improve education for the city’s one million students. But, as men in power often do, he has become a bit overzealous as he essentially commands the Panel for Educational Policy majority, who seemingly rubberstamp his every wish.

Meanwhile, the quality of education he promised for the children of this city nine years ago has yet to be suitably fulfilled.

However, it’s highly unlikely whatever the protesters said or shouted at the meetings made any difference — except perhaps to raise their own blood pressure. When all was said and done, their raucous actions didn’t make a dent to alter the plans of what was probably a done deal even before they were announced last December.

Nonetheless, for the time being, P.S. 114 should be exempt from phasing out, as its circumstances are unique compared to other failing schools. The Ryder Elementary School on Remsen Avenue has educated Canarsie children for over a century. Now, because of one principal’s unprofessional conduct, the school suffered and, after she was fired, was branded with a “poor performance” rating, which has sealed its fate for closing. Maybe, if the mayor’s restructured DOE bureaucracy had kept a vigilant eye out before Principal Maria Penaherrera ruined the school for personal gain, they could have turned things around. Now they want it gone, perhaps to erase the memory of their mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, poor performing schools need to be changed and pointed in the right direction. However, is closing down P.S. 114 or phasing in a new school to replace it really going to change anything?

If any school should be given a second chance, it is Public School 114, due to its obvious circumstances. Rehabilitate and reorganize the school before giving up. After all, it was an administrator more interested in personal gain than the students under her control that is the principal (pun intended) cause for its setback. The message in closing down that school essentially is: It’s not working, so we’re giving up on you.

That’s hardly a lesson that should be taught to young minds.

P.S. 114 deserves a mulligan — a do-over — for two or three years. If things don’t substantially turn around in that period, then make changes. But the course of action scheduled by the DOE is nothing more than total surrender and that certainly won’t benefit the dedicated teachers and the children deprived of a worthwhile education.

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