January 25, 2012
Two weeks after receiving the surprise news that their schools could close this June, some teachers are staging protests while others say they are too stunned to respond, for now.
At Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, Ann Looser is hoping fifty to 100 of her fellow teachers will stay after school tonight to protest city plans to “turn around” Herbert H. Lehman High School. As Lehman’s union chapter leader, Looser has led efforts to raise awareness about the city’s plan to “turn around” the school. Under the plan, which the city devised to keep federal funding despite a breakdown in negotiations over teacher evaluations, 33 low-performing schools would be closed and reopened after having half of their teachers replaced.
At Lehman, Looser and her colleagues have been trying recruit families, local politicians, and journalists to attend tonight’s “early engagement” hearing. The goal, she said, is to convince the city not to upend progress that the school had been making with the help of federal funds.
Under “restart,” Lehman had used the funds to offer credit recovery programs, peer mentoring, and extra training for teachers, Looser said. She said the extra help came at an important juncture, just as a new principal arrived after years of turmoil that included a grade-changing scandal. Purging the school’s teachers would set those efforts back, Looser said.
“We have a new principal who is from the community, and we’re really trying to make sure that Lehman High School is allowed to continue to offer the kinds of programs that we’ve been developing,” she said. “We want to ensure that those programs don’t go interrupted because we’re not here.”
The protest pattern is being repeated at schools across the city during meetings where city officials are presenting the closure plans. A meeting at William A. Maxwell High School last night drew a firefight, and teachers at John Dewey High School planned to show similar resistance at their school’s meeting last night. Parents at Long Island City High School have created a Facebook page to coordinate protest efforts.
But not every school caught up in the turnaround sweep is taking to the streets.
Chris Manos, the union chapter leader at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School, said he is encouraging staff to take a wait-and-see approach to their early engagement meeting, scheduled for Jan. 30.
“Instead of flying off the handle and creating a ruckus, why don’t we listen to what they have to say? Because at this point, nobody really knows what’s going on,” he said. “We want to hear what they’re stating as their reasons for closing our school — which I still don’t understand, to be very honest.”
Until recently Grady was receiving federal funding as a transformation school, arguably the least-invasive of the federal reform models. Under the model, the school raised its progress report grade from a D to a B, and funded after school tutoring programs and college visits. Grady is one of seven schools now up for closure that received B or A grades on their most recent city report cards.
Manos said the closure news also comes at one of the worst times for teachers interested in forming an organized opposition effort: Regents exam week.
“This thing hit us at such a bad time in the school year. It was a week before final exams, and now its also Regents week,” he said. “Right now we’re angry and hurt, but we still have the job of teaching the children and running the school. We went from a D to B — if that’s not showing improvement, then what is?”