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DOE policy pits parents against parents
Effort to move charter into PS 30’s building without consultation creates animosity in Harlem
Tensions were high as parents, students, teachers and community members from PS 30 and Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 2 faced off at a public hearing on Feb. 22 over Department of Education plans to site the charter school in PS 30’s building.
Harlem Success supporters, decked out in orange shirts and hats, arrived with bright orange signs saying, “Parent Choice Now” and “Don’t Kill Good Schools.”
PS 30 supporters, many wearing red shirts and white caps, held up signs that students made that read, “Harlem Success Academy Go Away” and “Equal Funding for All.” Prior to the hearing, PS 30 students, parents and teachers held a rally and marched around the school building.
Two days after the hearing, the Panel for Educational Policy, dominated by mayoral appointees, voted to approve co-locations at 16 schools, including PS 30 [see story below].
Harlem Success has coexisted uneasily with a neighboring Harlem school, PS 123. The DOE proposed moving the charter school into PS 30 as Kappa II, a middle school that currently shares space at PS 30, is phased out. A District 75 school, PS 138, also shares the school site.
PS 30 is one of the top schools in the district, earning two A’s and a B on its School Progress Reports in the past three years. It draws many students from the public housing projects across the street, and by all measures, serves its students well. It has four art programs — fine art, dance, drama and music.
PS 30 Parent Association President Monique Anderson said, “This is a wonderful school. ... We’d like to expand through 8th grade. But we won’t be able to if we have another school moved in here.”
Vanessa Ramadan, a parent of a Harlem Success student, said, “We’re not here to push out anyone, but Kappa II phasing out means there is room here. ... Harlem Success parents are here to see to it that our children get a good education and the space that is necessary.”
Fights between district schools and charter schools over space and resources have unfolded over and over again in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods in the last eight years as Schools Chancellor Joel Klein aggressively promotes the growth of charter schools.
“The co-locations of charter schools into already crowded community schools are another bad idea from this chancellor,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Fighting over scarce resources is not a recipe for success.”
Harlem Success is one of four schools in a charter network founded and led by Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman who aims to create 40 charter schools in New York City. Moskowitz earns close to $400,000 a year in that post.
During the hearing, the charter school’s supporters were so raucous in their objections that the DOE official in charge of the microphone threatened to have them escorted out of the building by police if they didn’t quiet down.
Students and parents at the two schools traded insults throughout the evening.
“My school is an A school. You think we failed? We do not fail. You are not taking PS 30 over. Harlem Success Academy, go away!” said student Nahla Reid.
After a parent of a Harlem Success Academy student testified that their teachers “speak really good English and know how to pronounce English,” PS 30 teacher Gloria Chang responded, “I went to Bank Street College and got a good education, just like your teacher got a good education.”
Kindergarten teacher Lydia Torgbor said, “We had a wonderful library that was taken away from us — will we lose our gym, too? It’s very hard to share common space with three schools. Some of our children eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. Think about that.”
PS 30 staff heard disconcerting stories about the experiences that teachers and administrators at PS 123 had sharing space with Harlem Success.
“We heard that their students were prevented from using the same bathrooms as the Harlem Success Academy students, and they put up signs like, ‘PS 123, do not go beyond this point,’” said PS 30 Chapter Leader Douglas LaPierre.
Jim Manley, the principal of the charter school, whipped up his constituents to deafening applause when he said, “Our parents are courageous because they fight for their children. They have one goal: that their children are going to college, and I work day and night for that goal. I’m proud of them and we’ll get what we need because it’s the right thing to do.”
With Harlem Success supporters trying to shout him down, Carlton Berkley, a former PS 30 student, persevered to say, “I have family sitting in orange and family sitting in red — but brothers and sisters, look at yourselves. Why do our kids have to win a lottery ticket to get a bona fide education? We are American citizens. … We don’t need to fight against each other.”
Dwayne Clark, a teacher at PS 30 and UFT District 5 representative, expressed regret about how the battle was ripping the community apart.
“We are not anti-charter, but these co-locations, where parents are pitted against parents and students against students, are clearly not a good way to proceed for anyone,” Clark said.
PS 30 Guidance Counselor Alvin Charles Leon tried to redirect the anger to what he suggested was the rightful target: the Department of Education.
“Isn’t it obvious? You should have your own buildings,” Leon said. “It’s time for us to wake up and stop this fighting amongst ourselves.”
What is your favorite back-to-school book for young readers?
Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes
The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn
Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco
First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg
Total votes: 39