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Schools fight back: PS 215, Queens

Crippled by cuts

Parents and students are among those opposed to the planned closing of PS 215, QMiller PhotographyParents and students are among those opposed to the planned closing of PS 215, Queens. The staff and parents of Far Rockaway’s PS 215 — one of the 25 schools on the mayor’s original hit list for this year — paint a picture of a school crippled by four years in a row of budget cuts.

Like most of the other schools targeted by the mayor, PS 215, located in a historically neglected outlying neighborhood, serves a high-needs population: largely Spanish-speaking, special-needs and low-income children. Those children, school supporters say, have been hurt the most by the series of program and service cuts that the school has absorbed since 2007, when it earned an A on its School Progress Report.

A parent-issued flier claimed “the DOE has failed to support the students of PS 215,” citing massive cuts to after-school programs, computers missing from almost all classrooms, no copiers for teachers and no music program since 2008.

Fourth-grade teacher Kellieann Moroney noted that the Bloomberg budget cuts resulted in the loss of academic intervention services staff and a math coach, a reading coach, guidance counselor, ESL teacher and full-time technology teacher, along with open student access to the library. Class sizes swelled, textbooks now are shared and supplies dried up, “forcing teachers to pay out of their own pockets for what the classrooms needed,” Moroney said.

It’s all had “a tremendously detrimental effect,” she said.

At a packed DOE meeting at the school on Jan. 20 about the proposed closure, parents and teachers confronted Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“I don’t blame the teachers, I don’t blame the principal, I don’t blame the kids; I blame Michael Bloomberg,” said parent Edie Ayala.

District 27 Community Education Council President Coralanne Griffith-Hunte pointed her finger at Walcott. “If a school isn’t working, change the administration,” she said.

“These are the best teachers in Far Rockaway,” said former Parent Association president Johnnie Gresham. Challenging Walcott directly, Gresham went on, “Why have you never come to Far Rockaway before? You’re just as bad as your boss. You say this school was failing for three years, and this is the first time you come to the school?”

Dr. Edward Williams, the Far Rockaway NAACP president, said, “The staff that was here when the school got an A is still here. Why replace them?”

Citing the many new schools created during the Bloomberg administration that are now being closed, Williams asked a question on the minds of many: “Where’s the advantage of closing 215 and opening a new school?”

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