November 19, 2012
At M.S. 53 on the Rockaway Peninsula, one student told Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch he was worried about taking the state tests after all the time he missed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Up a flight of stairs at Village Academy, Chancellor Dennis Walcott heard from a seventh-grader named Kimberly who lost everything in the storm. In a few weeks, she’s relocating permanently to Rochester, said her principal, Doris Lee.
And at a third visit at P.S. 47 in Broad Channel, an island that helps connect the Far Rockaway peninsula to the Queens mainland, Walcott asked about 20 fourth-graders if they knew what ”FEMA” meant.
Every hand went up.
Another 12 schools damaged by Sandy reopened on Monday, bringing 5,400 more students back to their original classrooms from temporary relocations in other school buildings. During a visit to another Far Rockaway school, P.S. 43, Mayor Bloomberg celebrated the news and noted that of 65 schools originally rendered “non-operational” because of power outages, damaged boilers, and flooded basements, all but 18 are back up and running.
At the 18 schools that are still in temporary sites, attendance on Monday was 80 percent, far higher than the 30-percent attendance rate that relocated schools were posting when school first reopened. Attendance was only slightly higher, 80.6 percent, at the 12 schools that moved home today. Citywide, attendance was 91.1 percent.
But as the hardest-hit schools reopen and attempt to return to normalcy, students, teachers, and administrators say Sandy is hardly in their rearview mirror. Walcott, Tisch, State Education Commissioner John King and other education officials spent Monday morning visiting some of the schools to find out how they’re doing now that school has resumed.
In Kimberly’s science class at Village Academy, for instance, the class reviewed the weather patterns and conditions and had to determine whether they should have evacuated before the storm hits.
The officials spent most of the morning popping in and out of classrooms, asking teachers and students about their work and talking about the storm.
The heat and electricity might be back on at P.S. 47, but Principal Ann Moynagh said things were hardly back to normal after the school returned to its home building last Tuesday. Moynagh told Walcott that she estimated about 50 percent of her school’s families had been displaced and she ticked off the new towns and states where they were enrolling: Montauk, Pennsylvania, Mastic, Monticello, Glendale.
There was still no internet or phone service available at the school and Moynagh said it had made getting in touch with students who remained absent from school.
“There are 55 kids who we’ve really been unable to account for,” Moynagh said of the 241-student school. “We’re still trying to figure a lot out.”
Bloomberg, Walcott, King, and Tisch were not the only officials to visit storm-affected schools on Monday, the three-week anniversary of the storm. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio visited I.S. 211 in Canarsie to meet maintenance workers who “worked around the clock for sixteen days after storm to repair the building and reopen it to students,” according to a release sent out by de Blasio’s office.