DOE decision puts Sunset Park middle school in jeopardy

February 3, 2012 Heather Chin
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I.S. 136 Charles O. Dewey is one of 33 public schools targetedby Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city Department of Education toundergo a turnaround process – closing the school and thenimmediately reopening the next day with up to 50 percent of theteachers being eliminated or replaced – possibly by September2012.

Unsurprisingly, this news has not gone over well with just aboutanyone, from teachers and school administrators to parents andstudents who attend the schools labeled as struggling and beyondrepair.

I.S. 136 has been on the state’s list of Schools In Need ofImprovement (SINI) since 2009, but for those in the schoolcommunity, the news was startling because they had just been placedunder the restart model – giving school oversight to a private,non-profit management company – and improved test scores enough toscore a B on the city Progress Report for 2010-2011.

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My reaction is the same as everyone else’s: we’re reallyirritated, said one veteran teacher who wished to remainanonymous. We were promised three years to improve test scores andare not being given that. I don’t understand how a school that wasgraded B could be considered completely ineffective. I also don’tunderstand how [eliminating] 50 percent of staff could help. We’repanicking, confused, hurt and angry.

The DOE’s decision comes amidst stalled negotiations with theteachers’ union, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), over howteachers would be evaluated under different transition models.

It’s a surprise in a sense that there had been [the restart]plan put into place and I think that the DOE’s conduct has verylittle to do with children and more to do with holding them hostagein negotiation with the UFT which I think is highly inappropriate,said Jim Devor, president of District 15’s Community EducationCouncil. [The restart model] was just beginning so it’s hard toget a real flavor of how well that was going [but] there’s noprecedent for two models at once. No one knows how it will playout.

According to Devor, there may have been other factors at play,as well, such as the division of the school into two separatepublic schools – I.S. 136 downstairs and Sunset Park Preparatoryupstairs – around eight years ago.

That’s been an issue with I.S. 136 that I’ve never been surehow to resolve, he said. The top is doing very well; the bottomis not. Both are public schools and I think very highly of [both]but the downside is Prep is a screened school and that has had animpact on I.S. 136.

The school also serves a large percentage ofEnglish-as-a-Second-Language learners but is still measured againstschools with little to no ESL classes. Community organizations suchas UPROSE (United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park) and theCenter for Family Life also hold after-school and extracurricularprograms for students.

For now, all the school community can do is wait. I hope thisis all in the best interest of the kids, but I don’t think theyhave their best interest at heart, said the I.S. 136 teacher.We’re upset that we’re being thrown into this political game.

On Monday, January 30, District 15 Superintendent Anita Skopspoke with parents about what turnaround might mean for theirchildren. Many parents were just starting to get a grasp on thesituation, but a few are starting to plan how to respond.

Elected officials are also weighing in. Brooklyn BoroughPresident Marty Markowitz sent a letter to Chancellor DennisWalcott criticizing the turnaround decision, stating, It isunfair to suddenly move the goal posts for school success.

My office is being flooded by outraged parents, teachers andstudents crying ‘foul,’ he wrote. While I know these schoolsstarted out on the State’s persistently low achieving schools’list, we should all be celebrating their success, not closing themand letting go the very people who turned the school around.

The final say as to which schools will indeed be required toundergo the turnaround process will be made by the DOE’s Panelfor Educational Policy (PEP) on April 26.

In the meantime, the UFT has filed a lawsuit against the DOE onbehalf of all 33 schools.

The DOE did not respond to requests for comment by presstime.

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