This week PS 9 in Brooklyn became a landmark in the turf struggles over siting charter schools, when State Education Commissioner David Steiner overturned the city's plan to move Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School into PS 9’s building this coming fall. For the second time in a year, Steiner threw out a city charter school siting because the city had failed to adequately ensure that it would treat fairly all students in each affected school. (Last summer, he nixed the city's plan to expand Girls Prep Charter School in its existing building.)
PS 9, which my two children attend, is an ethnically diverse school in a gentrifying, kid-friendly neighborhood in Prospect Heights. It has many good teachers and a lot of warmth, but also an uncertain status in the neighborhood, as many well-to-do parents have fled to schools in other neighborhoods or lunged to find spots via lotteries. I have two neighbors who have paid, in the form of extra rent, a year’s worth of private school tuition to place their kids in PS 321 in Park Slope. A community survey of Prospect Heights residents in 2004 showed that public schools were the number one negative about the neighborhood.
Is PS 9 second-rate or on the move? Over the past three years, PS 9 parents designed and raised funds for the school building’s brand-new library. The school is getting a new playground this summer. Brownstoner-dreams of a increasingly resource-rich yet diverse school have been bubbling: almost 200 students have enrolled for next year’s kindergarten.
In December, the city Department of Education proposed phasing-out MS 571, a low-performing middle school which shares the PS 9 building, while moving in the charter school. It seemed to many PS 9 parents that the DOE hadn’t planned a workable co-location involving three schools in an elementary-sized building so much as figured everything would work out.
To oppose it, many of us turned our daily routines inside out for weeks or even months. We confronted a massive learning curve in campaigning against it. Living inside the DOE, administrators have a native advantage against parents who want to stop the department’s actions. DOE staff deal daily with school statistics, arcane processes, elected officials and complaints. We were lucky to have some parents who are public relations professionals, graphic designers, teachers, lawyers, and that some of us had enough flexibility to devote time. But so many of the tasks, starting with decoding DOE’s documents, were foreign.
So Steiner’s ruling stupefied us last night: did we just beat the Man? We had fought hard against DOE for weeks on end. We scored some points (gaining media attention, rousing speeches by elected officials, a split vote by the Panel on Educational Policy). But the Man won, as he almost always does. We took comfort that even our losing campaign had helped bring out the PS 9 parent community. It helped show us that we had the resources to build up the school in other ways.
Steiner’s decision provides no certainty that the co-location is finished. The DOE may well appeal the decision. If so, PS 9 parents will try to mobilize again. Many of us are simply astonished that we’ve spent so much time, together, working on this. Yet after all the energy expended, it helps to know, finally, that a senior education official here in New York is willing to weigh our arguments, rather than just rebut them.
Many PS 9 parent advocates are simply astonished that we’ve spent so much time, together, working on this. Yet after all the energy expended, we are pleased to know, finally, that a senior education official here in New York is willing to weigh our arguments, rather than just rebut them.
You can read Steiner's decision here.
UPDATE: In a statement from the press office on Friday evening, the Department of Education vowed to continue their efforts to locate the charter school in the PS 9 building: "We are reviewing all of our legal options and remain committed to co-locating Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter school with PS 9 and MS 571 next year."
Valerie Watnick is a professor at Baruch College, teaching environmental and business law, and is a past Co-PTA President of PS 199 in Manhattan. She has written about the dangers of PCBs. This is her third update for Insideschools.org about the efforts to rid New York City schools of PCBs and other environmental dangers.
Parents and advocates have been mobilizing in the wake of the city's February 23 announcement that it would take ten years to replace PCB containing light ballasts in all the New York City schools. The City Council will hold a hearing on April 13, with parents expected to turn out in mass to protest the ten-year timeline.
PCBs are polychlorinated bi-phenols that were widely used in construction from the 1940s until they were banned in 1978. They are believed to be carcinogenic, immuno-toxic and to have a host of other ill health effects, including a relationship to depressed IQ.
The Regional Administrator of the EPA, Judith Enck, said that ten years is too long to take these contaminated light ballasts out of schools. In a March 11 letter, 41 of 51 members of the City Council urged the EPA to require the city to act more swiftly to protect children from PCBs commonly found in flourescent light ballasts.
After New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) issued a Freedom of Information Act Request, the city released previously concealed test results from a pilot study done last year at several schools. These results indicate that the caulk and ballast tests done in the summer of 2010 showed that many of these PCB levels in schools were above EPA action limits and in serious need of remediation. For example, one test done at PS 199 in Manhattan showed PCB levels in caulking around a classroom sink to have over 86 parts per million, which is above the EPA action level of 50 parts per million. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said that the city should have been more forthcoming on these test results from the pilot study. A copy of all of the city’s previously posted test results can be found on the Department of Education's website.
How can parents get involved? Join NYLPI's campaign to free the schools of PCBs, and attend the City Council hearing to make your voice heard: April 13 at 1 p.m., Emigrant Savings Bank, 49-51 Chambers Street in Manhattan.
Now is the time of year when parents of 3 and 4-year-olds fill out applications, take deep breaths, and then…wait. The pre-K application period begins today, Monday March 7, but placement letters won’t go out until early June. So how’s a parent to plan ahead?
For some 4-year-olds, winning a spot in a public pre-K program will mean the difference between school or no school next year – end of story. Parents who can afford to (and some who can't) may plunk down hefty deposits at private preschools, in case their public option eludes them. With our first daughter, we had to pay two successive deposits by the time we got the Department of Education letter–and ended up forfeiting the money when she got into PS 29. It was a bitter pill to swallow but worth it in the long run: the alternative was an expensive half-day program that lacked many of the opportunities she had at PS 29.
We were lucky–that year (2008), newcomers actually had a shot. Last year, word spread quickly that younger siblings would entirely fill the pre-K spots – in other words, forget it if you didn’t actually have an older child already enrolled. Things weren't much better at nearby PS 58 or PS 261; families made other arrangements. My friend Millie, who lives right across the street from PS 29, knew her son had a near-zero chance there, so they set their sights on a school they knew might offer space: PS 38, in neighboring Boerum Hill. The school has historically been under-enrolled, but as the neighborhood grows ever more popular, it has popped onto more parents’ radar. Millie reports that her son’s pre-K class “has many kids from PS 29, PS 58, and PS 261 zones.” Her family’s experience has been a happy one, aside from the daily trek across three school zones to get there. The classroom has three teachers for 20 kids, good facilities, and a supportive community.
This scenario isn't playing out just in our little corner of Brooklyn. Even before they enter public school, parents have to become super-sleuths, to figure out which schools may have spots for their preschoolers. The directory of the city's public pre-K programs is now online and available in enrollment offices and at most elementary schools.
The city today announced a 10-year plan to remove and replace all school lighting fixtures contaminated with PCBs, allocating $708 million in its capital budget to implement the plan which will also include an audit and recommendations by energy companies to determine how to improve energy efficiency in each school.
The plan "will not only reduce any potential exposure to PCBs," the announcement states, "but is expected to reduce the City's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 200,000 metric tons per year - the equivalent of removing more than 40,000 cars from the road."
The announcement follows a month in which an alarming amount of PCBs - persistent man-made chemicals that have been linked to myriad toxic effects, ranging from immune suppression to cancer, and most recently, to high blood pressure - have been found to be leaking from light fixtures in several schools.
Parents have been pushing the Department of Education to act on this since even before the Environmental Protection Agency put the New York City Department of Education and the School Construction Authority on notice, that either they begin the process of inspecting and removing contaminated light fixtures, or the EPA would start sending its own personnel into schools to inspect them.
The DOE said they would prioritize schools for new or retrofitted fixtures in this order: (1) schools with visual leaks, (2) elementary schools built between 1950 and 1966, (3) secondary schools built between 1950 and 1966, (4) elementary schools built between 1967 and 1979, (5) secondary schools built between 1967 and 1979, (6) elementary schools constructed prior to 1950, and (7) secondary schools constructed prior to 1950.
Schools that join the challenge spend four weeks working to reduce electricity consumption in their buildings, tracking and comparing energy savings.
Last year the winner was PS 166 on the Upper West Side. The school saved $1,845 in electricity costs during the month from mid-January to mid-February. This year's challenge goes from March 4 to April 1.
Find out more about the initiative on the Department of Education's sustainability website.
More than 2,000 eighth-graders and their families attended a fair last weekend to learn about a dozen new high schools that will open in September. The fair came a day after the distribution of letters to some 28,000 students who learned whether or not they had been received an offer to attend one of the city's nine specialized high schools.
Eighth-graders who choose to apply to one of the new schools must submit a new high school application to their guidance counselors by February 28, the first day back in school after the President's Week vacation.
Unlike the very selective specialized high schools, most of the new high schools have a "limited unscreened" admissions policy, which means preference is given to students who attend a fair or an information session about the school. Their academic record is not a factor in admissions.
Only one new school, Millennium Brooklyn, has selective admissions. It is open to students with an 85 or above grade average, who have scored a Level 3 or 4 on state exams. Maspeth High School, is a new zoned school in overcrowded Queens. Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences is the only new school with "educational option" admissions, accepting students with a wide range of academic achievement. For a full list of the new schools, including contact information, see the directory online.
For families who missed last weekend's fair, several schools will hold information sessions to give students an opportunity to learn more about the school and to sign-in, demonstrating their interest.
Here are the info sessions that have been announced so far. We'll add more if we learn about them.
- Millennium Brooklyn: Feb. 16, 6-7 p.m. at 345 Dean St, at the building shared by MS 447 and Brooklyn High School of the Arts
- Maspeth High School: Feb. 16 6-8:30 p.m., at IS 73, 70-02 54th Avenue, Queens
- Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences: Feb. 17, 6-7:30 p.m. at IS 238, 88-15 182d St, Hollis
- The Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology:Feb. 17 , 6 p.m. at Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction, 525 West 50th Street, Manhattan
- New Visions will have a meeting about its two new charter schools: New Visions Charter School for Advanced Math and Science and New Visions Charter School for Humanities: Feb. 28, 6:15-8pm at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, 3450 Dekalb Ave, Bronx.
Insideschools.org was at the fair talking to principals and school leaders. We'll be posting previews about the new schools soon.
Were you at the fair? Please share your thoughts.
Over 400 of the city's public schools burn a type of heating oil that is known to injure New Yorkers' health, according to a 2009 report by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Though just one percent of New York City's buildings use No. 4 or 6 oil, those few buildings belch out 87 percent of the soot emitted from burning heating oil in the City.
On February 1, Community Board 7 passed a resolution asking the city to take "immediate steps" to replace schools' boilers so that they can burn cleaner fuels, particularly natural gas. The Number 4 or 6 oil that the board would like to eliminate is also known as "refinery sludge."
The city has been trying to move forward on getting rid of dirty oil boilers, which lead to illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, and create emissions that the city has pledged to reduce as part of PlaNYC 2030. It's a rare issue, particularly one involving schools, on which all parties are at least theoretically in agreement.
There are at least 14 public schools with boilers that burn dirty oil in District 3 alone, including PS 9, MS 54, and the Brandeis complex. As a recent article on dirty oil pointed out, the Mayor's PlaNYC 2030 has called for replacing boilers at 100 schools (about a quarter of the total). A School Construction Authority spokesperson said seven school boilers have been replaced to date, with 25 more replacements currently planned.
A map of dirty buildings can be found on the Environmental Defense Website. While replacing boilers is expensive, the EDF report authors say that running a cleaner boiler is cheaper in the long run, not only because of indirect savings like health care costs, but also because natural gas is expected to remain much less expensive for years to come, and boilers that use it cost less to maintain.
As Community Board 7 points out, the dirty oil boilers in coops and schools are not only polluting our communities and reducing New Yorkers’ quality of life, they are also sending money up in smoke that could be better used in the classrooms, not in our air.
A fair at the Martin Luther King, Jr. high school building on the Upper West Side this weekend will introduce the 12 new high schools that are scheduled to open in September. A handbook listing the schools will be is posted online and available at the fair on February 12-13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Eighth graders interested in attending these schools may request an application from their guidance counselor. Although high school applications were submitted in December, students may change their applications if they applied to a school that will now be closing or if they want to attend a new school. The fair comes the week after the Panel for Education Policy voted to close 22 schools, most of which will be replaced by small schools.
Here's a rundown of what we know so far, according to news reports and proposals on the DOE's website.
IBM will be partnering with the DOE to open a school in Paul Robeson High School. According to NY 1, it will be the first public high school offering a six-year program where students graduate with an associate degree in Information Technology. A popular selective Manhattan school will be replicated in Brooklyn. Millennium Brooklyn will open on the John Jay High School campus, despite spirited opposition from staff and students at other schools in the building, two of which will have their middle school phased out. It will also offer a program for autistic children.
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, there will be a new school on the Bushwick campus, in the space formerly occupied by Urban Assembly New York Harbor School which moved to Governor's Island.
In the Bronx, several new high schools will open: one in Monroe High School, replacing Monroe Academy for Business and Law High School; two in both Columbus and Kennedy high schools which will be closing, and another will replace Performance Conservatory.
Insideschools will have profiles of the new schools after the fair.
Specialized high school results
On Friday, preceding the fair, in the first round of high school admissions, students will receive the results of their specialized high school exams and auditions, learning whether they have been admitted to one of the city's nine most selective schools.
Students who are accepted at a specialized school will also find out whether they were matched to another school on their applications. All others will have to wait until the main round results are distributed on March 31. The timeline for high school admissions is posted on the DOE’s website.
Anxious eighth and ninth-graders are already beginning the countdown on a Facebook page: OMG SHSAT RESULTS.
3 p.m. update:
Here's a list of the new schools and their locations (several of the locations are pending the approval of the PEP):
Bronx Design and Construction Academy (Alfred E. Smith High School)
Bronxdale High School (Christopher Columbus High School)
The Metropolitan Soundview High School (James Monroe campus)
Pelham High School for Language and Innovation (Christopher Columbus High School)
Brooklyn School for Math and Research (Bushwick High School campus)
Millennium Brooklyn (John Jay High School campus)
Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech) (Paul Robeson High School)
The Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology (High School of Graphic Communications)
Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences (Jamaica High School)
Maspeth High School (Metropolitan Avenue Campus)
Rockaway Collegiate High School (Beach Channel High School)
Some 2000 people -- including many parents with young children in tow -- filed into the Brooklyn Tech auditorium Tuesday night for a six hour meeting, the first of two Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) sessions this week to consider the closure of low-performing schools and the opening of new schools to replace them. It came as no surprise to anyone who has followed the stories of school phase-outs and closures, that the Panel, consisting largely of mayoral appointees, voted to close 10 schools and approved the expansion of four others.
For those who didn't make it out on the icy evening, GothamSchools reporters live-blogged the event, and ourSchoolsNYC hosted a Twitter feed. Video of the event, which got rowdy and nasty at times, is on NY 1,
It was after midnight by the time the panel voted to close two high schools in Brooklyn: Paul Robeson and Metropolitan Corporate Academy; four in the Bronx: Monroe Academy for Business/Law High School, School for Community Research and Learning,Urban Assembly Academy for History and Culture, and New Day Academy; and four in Manhattan: Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School, IS 195, KAPPA II, and the Academy of Collaborative Education. Several of those schools were opened as replacements for large neighborhood schools, shut down for poor performance during Chancellor Joel Klein's tenure.
One of the more contentious items on the agenda was the opening of a new Harlem Success school, Upper West Side Success Academy in the Brandeis High School building. Busloads of Harlem Success parents and their children attended the PEP meeting to support the new school, but at a District 3 meeting last week, many parents voiced their opposition. Jennifer Freeman, Upper West Side parent and Insideschools.org blogger, was at that meeting.
"The only people who supported putting the elementary school in Brandeis were employees of the Success Academies organization and a few parents of four year olds," she writes, who may be unaware of needs in the community, such as "where will today's bulging population of elementary students go to middle school, and whether the needs of the 900 students who applied for the 100 seats in the new Frank McCourt school deserve consideration."
Other parents of young children on the Upper West Side say that because some desirable Upper West Side public schools are over-crowded, they appreciate the option of applying to a charter school in the Brandeis building.
But Freeman wonders if those parents of four year olds have ever considered why the options available to District 3 middle or high-schoolers are less important than theirs. "Now," she says, "with the PEP voting to approve the siting of Upper West Success at Brandeis, the DOE has chosen whose options will be expanded and whose curtailed."
And, if you missed Tuesday's meeting, there will be another one this Thursday night: same time, same place (6 p.m. at Brooklyn Tech High School) where the PEP will vote on another 13 school closures.
By MELISSA KISSOON
[Melissa Kissoon is an 18-year-old graduate of Brooklyn’s Franklin K. Lane High School, which will close this year. The school began to “phase-out” to make way for new small schools while she was a junior. She is a youth leader with Future of Tomorrow and the Urban Youth Collaborative. This blog post was adapted from the EdVox.org website.]
I was victim of a high school phase out. Do you know what it’s like to have four new schools come into your school building?
The first year after the Department of Education announced that my school, Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, would be closed, we weren’t allowed to set foot on the fourth floor anymore. The next year, the DOE split the rest of the floors in halves. So, if your classroom was around the corner, you could no longer just walk over to your room. You’d have to go upstairs and around and back down stairs to make it to your class. As a result of this, many students were late for their classes. Students missed class time and got in trouble because our school was chopped up and our building was divided!
The great teachers we once loved either switched to the other schools in the building or left. There is no longer a library in the building, because Lane doesn’t have enough money for a library and the other four schools have small budgets. Students with essays due and no printer or computer can’t print—then they struggle to figure out how to pass their class.
Almost all the after school activities belong to the other schools, including the sports and the ROTC. Two of my friends are in their last year at Lane. One of them is only taking one academic class. He scored well on his SAT and is applying to Brown University but there are no Advanced Placement classes for him to take and he is done with school every day at noon. My other friend was told last year that he had enough credits to graduate. He was 16, a junior and not ready for college. There is a difference between having enough credits to graduate, getting a rigorous education, and being prepared for college.
The phase out has failed us all, hundreds of us in Brooklyn and thousands of us in New York City. I was a cheerleader, so school pride was important to me. There is no longer school pride, there is no encouragement, there are no familiar teachers, there are no resources to help us pass. All that remains is a push, a push out of the school by any means possible.
I graduated and I’m in college now, at City Tech. But I look back at the last four years of my life and I feel robbed of my high school experience. My school was no longer MY school; I was basically being kicked out of a school that made a promise to support me and give me all I need to pass. If the Department of Education is truly committed to students, they must include us in decisions about OUR education.