Wide-ranging protest over possible Dewey closure grows

March 16, 2012 Heather Chin
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The March 12 event was billed as a forum on school turnarounds where parents, students, teachers and alumni could make statements directly to Department of Education (DOE) officials about why they don’t want the DOE to close their schools. Out of 33 schools on the turnaround list, however, only a dozen sent representatives and only one arrived with a small army: John Dewey High School.

“We as a student body want everyone to know that we care about our teachers, faculty, administrators and everyone at Dewey,” said graduating senior Shataya Watford after testifying to the small panel, which was led by Elaine Gorman, DOE executive director of school turnarounds. “We want Dewey as Dewey, the way it is.”

In addition to bringing nearly 100 people from Dewey’s past, present and future – including Principal Barry Fried, several assistant principals and dozens of teachers and alumni – to the public hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall, students also made their voices heard at an impromptu walk-out on Friday, March 9.

The mid-day walk-out drew 500 students out of classes and onto Stillwell Avenue in Gravesend, where honks of support from passing motorists and a cavalcade of police cars greeted their chants of “Save Our School.”

“Everyone had had enough,” explained Watford, who said she learned about the walk-out the day before via Facebook. “We decided that as a student body, we would walk out and fight for what we believe in, because we do have voices.”

Parents, teachers and alumni expressed pride over the students’ passion.

“It took less than 24 hours for them to get on board, get organized and show up at 7:15 a.m. for a rally and then organize a walkout,” said one alumnus who wished to remain anonymous. “It was pretty impressive and I thought the school handled it really well. It was loud, but not violent. I was really proud of them.”

According to veteran teacher Elizabeth Bouiss, the students’ message is part of a larger feeling of frustration over the changes proposed without any input from the school community.

“We have already seen significant improvement in measures like graduation rates [and] school morale was noticeably better this past fall,” said Bouiss in her statement to the DOE. January’s announcement that Dewey would be closed despite the improvements we have made was devastating.”

“Adding to that was the recent release of the [revelation that] many of the very programs and ideas that the current staff diligently, dedicatedly and lovingly developed are in the DOE’s plan for this new school,” she noted.

Under the DOE’s turnaround plan, Dewey would be closed in June, over half of the faculty and administrators fired and forced to reapply for their positions, and then reopened in September under a new name with a new principal and many new teachers.

Dewey is scheduled to reopen with an additional District 75 special education program co-located into their building. Nearby Sheepshead Bay High School and William E. Grady High School are also slated to be closed, reopened and co-located with District 75 programs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Bensonhurst is also scheduled to be closed and reopened.

Dewey received a C on its 2010-2011 DOE Progress Report, down from a B in 2009-2010. FDR received a steady B on the same progress report, while Sheepshead Bay HS got a D and Grady went up from a D to a B.

Additional public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, April 17, for Dewey and FDR. The final vote on all 33 schools is scheduled for Thursday, April 26.

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