Last night, I attended a District 2 Community Education Council meeting for work, and have never felt so depressed. The meeting was held in the dreary auditorium of a local school called American Sign Language School, located on East 23rd Street and Second Avenue. Pizza was served as refreshment, and the council members sat in a long panel at the center of the stage, while less than a dozen people sprinkled the auditorium seats, straining to hear the member’s voices as they whispered into a muted microphone.
Apart from the fact that I could barely hear what was going on, what was more dampening was the attitude of the members. They seemed so defeated. The president of the Council Shino Tanikawa noted more than once that no matter what sort of resolutions they make, the Department of Education (DOE) wouldn’t listen anyway. It was like watching the New York City education system dig it’s own grave, and the council is the fish out of water that flaps, flaps and then dies, unheard.
The Council was hard opposed to the installation of more charter schools in their already over-crowded district, but as the members of the board munched on pizza from their pedestals, their words were bleak, hope-draining. I felt the food would fall out of their mouths, limp, pallid and cold. “Often times, these resolutions are ignored,” the president reiterated for the third time. I felt for all of them. I knew their hearts were in the right place, and that they wanted to look out for the best interest of the children, but they’re David facing a bullet-proofed Goliath, and no one (besides the six or so academics that joined me in the audience) would hear their voices.
“The DOE thinks we have more space than we know we do,” said Mike Markowitz, a member of the council. “We don’t buy what the blue book says about school capacity.”
Over the next two years, 33 schools (which are considered, according to dry statistics, to be “low achieving” schools) are slated to undergo a “restart” or placed under a Turnaround Plan that would remove 50 percent of teachers from the targeted school, including the principal. The council seems to think this would be disruptive to children’s education. Sounds about right.
“They say it’s a funding issue,” said Tamara Rowe, recording secretary of the council. “But it really has to do more with budget and politics.”
For a little context, schools in New York City are crowded, to put lightly. Think about it. The population is always growing here, but there isn’t a lot of room to be building new schools. On top of that, when a school isn’t “performing” well (which means the students are getting low grades in their standardized Regency exams, or simply aren’t graduating), the DOE’s solution to the problem is to shut it down (or as they call it, “phasing out”), and then to install two new specialty schools in its place. The Council believes that specialty schools aren’t what the children of District 2 need right now. What they need are more quality middle schools.
So, what’s the solution? I don’t know, ask the experts. But what I can say is that the DOE is scrambling to save the tip of an iceberg, while the greater mass underneath is already disintegrating. I listened to the depressing ramblings of the council for a good two hours before I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to walk out. But I’m not here to say that this council is incompetent by any means. They are a group of truly compassionate, well-informed citizens who really care about the children. My point is that their resignation is a symptom of the overall disease, one that the DOE can’t seem to shake.