November 17, 2011
The agenda for tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, held in Queens, contained just two topics: School locations and the Department of Education’s financial contracts.
But it was scheduling crises at two Queens high schools that dominated most of the meeting at Astoria’s Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, drew just a few dozen parents.
We reported this week that Queens Metropolitan High School had revised students’ schedules as many as 10 times this year amid an organizational crisis. Last month, NY1 reported that thousands of students at Long Island City High School were enraged after the school changed their schedules midyear.
Tonight, Department of Education officials vowed to repair the damages. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who stepped in at Queens Metropolitan on Wednesday, called the debacles “rare” and vowed that they “will not be repeated.”
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose daughter is a physical education teacher at the school, echoed Polakow-Suransky’s promise, saying, “We pledge our support to make sure we do not repeat this at all.”
“This is something we take very seriously and will pursue aggressively,” Polakow-Suransky said tonight, adding that department officials helped fix schedules at the Long Island City school and would now take a closer look at how schools slot students into classes.
He said students wouldn’t be penalized for their school’s troubles but acknowledged that consequences of the disorder could persist.
“It won’t be lost time for any students involved, but the destruction to their experience is damaging,” Polakow-Suransky said.
A Queens Metropolitan parent who said she had been contacting the chancellor’s office weekly about problems at the school — City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley — was the first member of the public to speak.
In a meeting with reporters, she said it was clear that officials were working to clean up the situation but said that the efforts were coming late.
“It’s only today that it’s getting so much attention,” she said. “It’s good that Walcott’s daughter works there and I send my kids there. We’re going to work together as a community to make sure this happens.”
The school’s PTA president, Nicole Tam, said was surprised to learn earlier this week about the extent of the scheduling problems. She said Principal Marci Levy-Maguire has “put her heart and her mind” to the task of solving the scheduling problem this week.
“She’s actually caring,” Tam said. “She’s talking to parents. She’s not going and locking herself in a room like other principals would.”
After the public comment period, the panel quickly approved proposed changes in building use for 11 Bronx, Manhattan and Queens schools. In one vote, the panel approved making P.S. 51′s new site its permanent home. At last month’s PEP meeting, families from the Bronx school, which was moved after cancer-causing chemicals were detected in the air at its old location, spoke out against the subpar conditions at the new building.
Two weeks ago throngs of protesters bearing the name and hallmark tactics of the Occupy movement derailed a special PEP meeting on the new curriculum standards and vowed to return to subsequent meetings. But with a massive Occupy protest in Lower Manhattan tonight — which included an “Occupy the DOE” action on the steps of Tweed Courthouse — The sparse audience was mostly quiet. Panel meetings are likely to grow more contentious in the coming months as more controversial plans for school openings and closures come up for approval.