PUBLISHED BY MOSHOLU PRESERVATION CORPORATION

Vol. 19,  No.  24 Dec. 14 - 27,  2006



     
 

Activists Say School Officials are ‘Planning for Failure’

By ALEX KRATZ

New York City is planning on almost two-thirds of Bronx students failing to graduate high school, says a new report that has outraged elected officials, non-profit advocacy groups and a raucous crowd of more than 400 concerned parents and student activists at a rally in North Fordham two Saturdays ago.

The disconcerting number stems from the city’s school seat projections in the Department of Education’s (DOE) Five-Year Capital Plan, which predicts that only 36 percent of Bronx students entering ninth grade will graduate high school in four years. The projections determine how many, and where, new school seats and buildings will be created by the School Construction Authority (SCA).

DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg doesn’t deny the number, but says it’s not that simple. Many students take longer than four years to graduate and projections also take birth rate, immigration and other demographic changes into account. Besides, percentage-wise, the Bronx will receive more new seats from the capital plan than any other borough in the city, Feinberg says.

Feinberg maintains that the current plan, once completed, will eliminate overcrowding in Bronx schools.

Many blame high dropout and low attendance rates in the Bronx on overcrowding. Parents, students, politicians and school advocates from across the city are skeptical that a plan to cut seats based on pessimistic survival projections will resolve an issue that has plagued the borough for more than 30 years.

Report challenges city
The public outcry in the Bronx began on Nov. 6 when the DOE announced 1,500 middle and elementary school seats would be slashed from the original plan, created in 2004, to build 4,000 new seats in District 10 (the entire northwest Bronx). It was one of the biggest cuts of seats in the city. The DOE said the cuts were due to demographic changes.

Three days earlier, representatives from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) sat down with Deputy Chancellor for Finance Kathleen Grimm and SCA President Sharon Greenberger. NWBCCC President Ronn Jordan asked them to find a new permanent home for the Leadership Institute, a small second-year high school that NWBCCC helped create, and to site 1,000 new high school seats at the Kingsbridge Armory (the SCA is already set to build 1,000 elementary and middle school seats there). They rejected the requests, saying the current capital plan would add enough seats to cure overcrowding. According to Jordan, they said, “If you don’t believe us, prove us wrong.”

The NWBCCC did just that, asking the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, a non-profit research group based in Manhattan, to provide them with a statistical analysis of the DOE’s plan. In turn, the Institute produced a report called “Planning for Failure?” which argued that the DOE is “caught between cross purposes, to the detriment of Bronx students.”

There is an inherent conflict in trying to fund an accurate amount of new seats (using a survival rate of 36 percent), while improving the graduation rate to 80 percent by 2010, the report says. The report also says that it is the difference between “high school graduation, college and successful careers, or the school-to-prison pipeline or dead-end jobs in the low-wage service economy for more than 10,000 youth [the number of Bronx students the report predicts will not have seats if they stay on course to graduate].”

Longtime schools advocate Noreen Connell, head of the Educational Priorities Panel, said the school seat projection methodology is used throughout the country, but that doesn’t make it right or accurate. Not only does it plan for students to fail, she said, but it also doesn’t accurately count the capacity of schools or the effect new small schools have had on diminishing a school’s capacity.

If Connell had her way, she says she would add 20,000 high school seats to the capital plan. “There’s no excuse for cuts on the high school level.”

Game of ‘Survivor’
Leonie Haimson, who heads the non-profit Class Size Matters, says the axing of seats in District 10 is not only “unconscionable,” but that the Bloomberg administration isn’t putting its money where its mouth is.

“For all his emphasis on education, Mayor Bloomberg will leave the city with larger class sizes than when he arrived,” Haimson said. “This capital plan proves again that education comes last.”

At the rally two Saturdays ago, coordinated by the NWBCCC (as part of its annual meeting), community leaders expressed outrage over the cuts and the 36 percent figure.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum showed up to voice her displeasure. “I’m thrilled to sign onto this project,” Gotbaum said. “Clinton [High School, 142 percent capacity] is a wonderful school, but what has happened there is a disgrace.”

Local activist Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter told the crowd that her daughter, who attends John F. Kennedy High School (127 percent capacity), can’t find a place to sit and eat her lunch because the cafeteria is too crowded. “The administration is telling us that your children are not worth our time,” she said.

Jose Cabrera, a senior at one of the small schools on the Walton High School campus (167 percent capacity), equated high school in the Bronx to a game of “Survivor.” “Imagine if you had three kids, but the DOE told you only one of them would succeed,” Cabrera said.

In a speech, Joel Rivera, the City Council majority leader, referred to a new prison being proposed for Hunts Point, and asked City Hall: “Why do you want to build a jail and not new schools?”

Jordan said it’s not an accident that “two-thirds of [New York State’s] prisoners don’t have a high school diploma.”

Cabrera says the crowding breeds frustration. He said students grow frustrated; from the lack of attention, from the long lines to get through metal detectors, from exasperated and overworked teachers and administrators. “Students feel like everything is stacked against them and it’s too hard to pass,” he said. “It’s all psychological.”

Ed. note: The NWBCCC is calling on all those displeased with the capital plan to voice their concerns at a DOE Panel for Education Policy Meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18 at I.S. 184, 778 Forrest Ave.

For more information, call (718) 584-0515.

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