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UFT protests PEP ‘charade’ at City Hall

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Flushing HS science teacher Agata Wudarczyk (left) and school librarian Christine Hatami protest the closing of their school.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew tells the protesters: “The mayor has now decided that his political needs trump the educational needs of the students. Mr. Mayor, shame on you.”

Waving signs that read “Support our Kids” and “True Reform Requires Investment,” scores of parents and teachers rallied outside City Hall to protest the mayor’s school-closing policy on April 26, just hours before the city’s Panel for Educational Policy voted to shutter 24 struggling schools, dismiss their staffs and reopen them in the fall under new names.

The UFT, which organized the rally, eschewed its usual protest at the PEP meeting in favor of demonstrating at City Hall because, union officials said, the panelists, who have never voted down a proposal to close a school, are “puppets” of the mayor.

“Everything’s choreographed. It’s a big charade,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said of the vote at the Prospect Heights Campus, in Brooklyn, which he told demonstrators would mark “one of the saddest days in the history of New York City public schools.”

“The mayor has now decided that his political needs trump the educational needs of the students,” Mulgrew said, accusing the mayor of moving to close the 24 schools as political payback for the union’s refusal to acquiesce to his demands in teacher evaluation talks. “Mr. Mayor, shame on you.”

All 24 schools that the PEP voted to close had been on track to receive additional funding from the federal government through either the “transformation” or “restart” intervention model until the mayor unilaterally placed them in the more punitive “turnaround” model, which requires a staff shakeup that the mayor is trying to accomplish by closing the schools.

Agata Wudarczyk, a science teacher at Flushing HS for 11 years, said she did not understand why her school had been targeted for closure.

“We were doing very well. We were a B school and we were improving,” Agata said.

“It’s going to rip apart the relationships between students and teachers,” added Christine Hatami, the school’s librarian.

Novolette Foote, the chapter leader at the Bronx’s Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, asked how she can explain to her students that their school will no longer exist in the fall.

“Mayor Bloomberg has to be stopped,” she said. “He isn’t the education mayor. He is the education destroyer.”

Joe Doyle, a history teacher at soon-to-be-closed Newtown HS, in Queens, described the chaos caused by the mayor’s decision to pull Newtown out of the “restart” model and thrust it into “turnaround.”

“We thought we had three years [in the ‘restart’ program], but they pulled the rug out from under us,” he said.

With a new and vibrant partnership with a Johns Hopkins-based educational nonprofit, Diplomas Now, and a championship robotics team that has beaten both Stuyvesant and Bronx Science this year, Doyle said this should have been “a year of great optimism” for the school.

“Lots of things were going right,” he said. “But Mayor Bloomberg deflated the school with one swift blow.”

Jessica McDermott, the school’s chapter leader, said she did not understand why Newtown was on the closing list and challenged the DOE to look at the school’s “unique challenges.”

The overwhelming majority of students at Newtown are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and fully one-quarter of them do not speak English when they first arrive at the school. Another 15 percent of students have special needs.

“Our doors are open to everyone,” McDermott said. “We don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of what the mayor thinks a school should be. It’s heartbreaking.”

None of the 24 schools now being closed were on the city’s original list of struggling schools marked for closure announced in the fall.

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