Saturday, December 8, 2012

Boys and Girls HS vs DOE -  
Report from Public Meeting 12/4/12 6

                                                          Principal Gassaway with Boys & Girls Students

Approximately 450 parents, students, educators and community leaders attended the December 4 meeting at Boys and Girls High School in Bedford Stuyvesant to respond to the DOE’s “Report to the Community on the Performance of Boys and Girls High School” and its  proposal concerning the future of the school.

Brooklyn HS Superintendent Karen Watts (formerly Principal of Wadleigh HS in Harlem) presented the DOE’s proposal for Boys and Girls HS which resembles the “good” cop, “bad” cop interrogation scenario.  The DOE is considering two “Action Plans” for Boys and Girls. “Action Plan” # 1 involves increased professional development (whoopee!) and removal of Principal Gassaway who enjoys widespread support in the community. “Action Plan 2” involves “Phase out” of Boys and Girls High and opening of new district or charter school(s).  

No video recording of the hearing was permitted and the DOE reps sat at a table in the shadows saying little after their opening statements.

The “Report to the Community on the Performance of Boys and Girls High School” was distributed at the meeting and is probably available on the DOE website. It contains the data on which the DOE is basing it case for intervention.  According to the DOE the schools Progress Report Grade has gone from a C in 2009-10 to an F in 2011-12.

The first speaker, a math teacher at Boys and Girls and long time track coach of numerous city and state championship teams placed the situation in context and set the tone for the rest of the evening.  He was eloquent, calmly passionate and pulled the hood off the DOE’s “data”.

He noted, to wide applause, that Boys and Girls received a B in 2008.  In that same year Chancelor Klein closed Erasmus, Clara Barton, Tilden and other Brooklyn High Schools.  1800 students were transferred to Boys and Girls High School from the closed schools with less than 10 credits.  Many had less than 5% attendance rates. “F students were flushed out of these schools to massage the numbers.” The policy of Boys and Girls was to accept all students who wanted to attend.  The B went to a C went to a D went to an F. “What happened is that the DOE set up Boys and Girls HS for an F because we are a community HS that aims to serve all students.”

Parents, alums, teachers, current students spoke passionately in support of the school and their Principal.  What emerges from the evening was an inspiring story of how a school community beset by many challenges has taken in all students and strove to heal and uplift young people cast off by the DOE.

Over the next 21/2 hours over 60 parents, students, alumni a community and business leaders went to the mics in support of Boys and Girls HS and its Principal Bernard Gassaway who appears to be the immediate target of the DOE. Gassaway also spoke and was very warmly received. As a former Superintendent who came out of retirement to take over  Boys and Girls after the sudden death of the  former long term principal Mickens, Gassaway said he knew what he was coming into and he knows all about what the DOE is up to and how they operate. He was modest and said “this is not about me.”

He told one story that will be of particular interest to UFT members.  He explained how the DOE had  made ATRs move from school to school every week to punish them and force them to find a job but this system had backfired because some ATRs were content to just bounce around from school to school and go wherever the DOE tells them to report.  With out naming any names Gassaway said that the DOE, today, prior to this meeting, had assigned an ATR to Boys and Girls HS who acted, in his words simply “out of their mind”.  This teacher was shouting at Gassaway in the hallway in front of students aggressively waving papers in Gassaway’s face.

The students were shocked and angered at this aggressive behavior directed at their Principal but Gassaway calmed them and sent them away and instructed the teacher to leave the building.  He later learned that the teacher had been in a rubber room for 10 years.  He told this story because he felt that it summed up the DOE’s attitude towards Boys and Girls HS.  If the DOE had sent a teacher to the rubber room for so many years, why then would the DOE send that very same teacher to a school that is according to the DOE’s own evaluation in so much trouble?

The Bed Stuy community is prepared to defend Boys and Girls HS and its Principal. In the immediate future the DOE would not likely get away with closing Boys and Girls HS without facing a full scale revolt.  It seems at this stage they are aiming for Gassaway.  The slice and dice and privatization will follow.

The immediate issue raised by the DOE‘s action plans for Boys and Girls HS is  who chooses Black educational leaders; Bloomberg or the Black community?  Bloomberg has skillfully and consciously manipulated and essentially bribed many Black administrators to follow his mandates or at least keep their opinions to themselves.  He has also used the charter school “choice” to pit parent against parent particularly in the Black communities.  As a lame duck, Bloomberg appears to be going for broke and to crush the few remaining outposts of Black institutional power within the Board of Education.  Just like Mississippi cops had a Black trustee inmate nearly beat Fannie Lou Hamer to death while they watched on before the 1964 Democratic convention, Bloomberg has Black professional flunkeys to do this dirty work.   I think this effort to eliminate independent Black professional leadership in Boys and Girls HS, one of the last outposts, is the elimination of whatever remains of parent and community power as the only obstacle to privatization. This is the reason behind  mayoral control.  The struggle for Boys and Girls High combines past and present struggles for school community empowerment and social justice.  It deserves the full attention and support of parents, student and UFT members across the city.  

Submitted by Sean Ahern, parent and teacher,

Boys & Girls leader steals the show at lively pre-closure meeting

by Geoff Decker,

In a fiery, off-the-cuff speech delivered to supporters on Tuesday, outspoken Boys and Girls High School Principal Bernard Gassaway reiterated charges he has leveled for years: The city is keeping him from turning around his long-struggling school.

Just that afternoon, he recounted, he confronted and sent away an unwanted teacher assigned to him by the Department of Education.

"They sent a nut job here," Gassaway said, to cheers from the crowd who turned out a meeting held by the department as part of a process to determine whether the school should close.

"But that's what they think about kids," he added as part of the 11-minute address. "You don't think that's not done intentionally?"

With a 37 percent four-year graduation rate and a 2.4 percent college-and-career-readiness rate, Boys and Girls ranks as one of the lowest-performing schools in the city and has for years. Demand for the school has also waned, as enrollment has dropped 40 percent — from 2,000 to 1,200 — since 2010. Related Stories

Second straight F puts Boys & Girls High's future on the line November 26, 2012 13 After bumpy start, Boys & Girls basketball to aid school's reform May 2, 2012 1 Jamaica HS union leader says teachers saw closure coming December 3, 2009 27 Week's school closure hearings include at least one talent show January 23, 2012 5 Students to learn inside the Sonia Sotomayor room at Girls Prep July 28, 2009 2

Department officials have publicly pledged support for Gassaway and last spring spared the school from undergoing a grueling turnaround proposal that ultimately failed in courts earlier this year. But after another year of low performance — and an "F" grade on its latest progress report, the second in a row — the city is taking a closer look and will soon decide if it should receive the same fate as other comprehensive high schools that have shuttered under the Bloomberg administration.

The school's status under Gassaway has been unsteady for years, but he has enjoyed the support of the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, including many influential political, business, and religious leaders. The school's advisory board includes City Councilman Al Vann, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, Regent Lester Young, Rev. Conrad Tillard and Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation President Colvin Grannum.

That support was on display Tuesday night. Vann, Robinson, Young, and Tillard joined U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and about 200 others to voice their opposition to closing the school.

"There's a lot of history here. This is part of who we are as a community and a people. You can't close that," said Vann.

Dozens of speakers laid out familiar arguments for why the school should be saved. Many of them said other school closures in Brooklyn and Queens had caused a large concentrations of high-need students at Boys and Girls.

"We now have to bear their burden," said Anthony Jones, a graduate who now works with the school's track team.

"It's not the school that's failing at all," said Deanna King, a student. "It's the people who sit there and bring 1,800 students who are terrible and bring them into our school."

Since ex-Chancellor Joel Klein handpicked him to lead the school in 2009, Gassaway has publicly stated a desire to get rid of teachers that he considered subpar, and recently he has begun criticizing the city for not helping him do that. Still, many teachers have left under his leadership, he said, adding, "I'm feeling more optimistic with the staff we have in place now."

Supporters said changes Gassaway has made would take some time to have an impact. Vann said younger students will be the first to enjoy the real benefits of the reforms, which include a partnership with Long Island University, where students earn college credits.

About 25 sophomores are part of the program's first cohort. One of them, Armando Dunn, enrolled in the program so that his mother would allow him to attend Boys and Girls and join the basketball team. Both of his older sisters had attended ultra-selective city high schools.

"I can't send you to a school where I see statistics saying that it's failing," Lisa Dunn recalled telling her son.

Now, Lisa Dunn is president of the school's parent association and said she believes Gassaway should have more time to turn the school around.

Principals of schools facing closure usually keep a low profile at the city's "early engagement" meetings, which are run by district superintendents. But after about 90 minutes of testimony, Gassaway appeared in front of the stage and addressed the crowd.

Gassaway began by saying he was done assigning blame.

"What we can't do, and what I may have been guilty of in the past, is we can't point fingers," Gassaway said. "There are powers that be that would love to have me stand up here and bash this group or bash that group. I'm not going to do that."

But soon Gassaway was ripping the department for its deployment of teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of teachers who lost their jobs through budget cuts or school closures. Gassaway said that just hours earlier he was involved in an incident with an ATR teacher who had refused to resume teaching until a disruptive student was removed from the class.

"I looked at my kids. I tell them, 'don't fight', so I couldn't fight," Gassaway said. "But I said to myself, let me get him out of here."

"He's not coming back," Gassaway added, to cheers.

Hey DOE! It's Kind of Your Fault Boys and Girls High School is Under-Performing, Community Says

By Jason Lewis Wed., Dec. 5 2012

Principal Bernard Gassaway urges the community to play their part in ensuring that kids get educated.

Those advocating to preserve the current structure of Boys and Girls High School say the New York City Department of Education has failed to calculate the role it has played in contributing to the school's drop in performance in recent years.

The historic Bedford-Stuyvesant high school is facing the prospect of being phased out, radically redesigned and divided into several different district or charter schools -- after receiving poor performance grades from the DOE for the last three years.

Members of the Boys and Girls family, politicians and members of the surrounding community passionately reminded the DOE -- at a community meeting held at Boys and Girls last night -- that the school has admitted nearly 2000 underachieving students from around the borough in the last three years.

"You cannot ask a school to absorb 1800 students from all over the borough, who themselves have been dislocated, and expect that they will come together under one roof and...really function at optimal capacity," Congressman-elect Hakeem Jeffries told District 16 Superintendent Karen Watts and another DOE representative at last night's forum.

The influx of the 1800 dislocated students is a result of the DOE's decision to phase out a number of large high schools across Brooklyn in recent years -- including schools such as Canarsie, South Shore, and Tilden. The year prior to the infusion of students, the school earned a B grade from the DOE.

"The department of education created a climate of confusion here at Boys and Girls, and that's the reason why we're seeing the school not necessarily hit some of the performance measures," Jeffries said. "What we're asking is that the department of education take a very hard look at what it has done to hurt the progress here at Boys and Girls."

Watts insisted that no final decision has been made on phasing out the school. The DOE may instead opt to implement an intensive assistance program for the remainder of this school year to try and help boost the school's performance to a satisfactory level.

It's unclear how realistic it is to expect an assistance program of any capacity to lift up the school's performance in just a few short months. But, that appears to be the only alternative option available to the school if it hopes to remain intact.

The high school will have to improve upon its poor attendance rates, a 39 percent graduation rate for four-year students, low college matriculation rates and back-to-back F's from the DOE.

The DOE issued a report to community members stating that the department has given "considerable support" to the high school, "but unfortunately [the DOE's] best efforts have not turned the school around."

Boys and Girls Principal Bernard Gassaway -- who received much praise yesterday from parents, students and alumni -- said he envisioned that the high school would ultimately meet this crossroad.

"God has given me the prophecy to see this day three years ago. I knew this was coming," he told the audience. "We were not going to reject any of our young people who wanted to come to Boys and Girls High School."

Alumnus Lee Church declares the school is here to stay. 

Students told stories of how Boys and Girls has helped boost their self- confidence, improve their academic performance, provide them with a since of belonging and guide them through tough times. Deanna, a senior student whose father has suffered numerous strokes in recent months, said the school has been a haven during her troubled times.

"No one understands the fact that this is our home, and I'm here until 9 p.m. at night doing my work or doing something educational. Why do people have to take this away from us?" she asked.

A number of speakers accused Bloomberg and the DOE of targeting the school, and others like it, for economic reasons and the real estate its campus occupies.

"It's about real estate and it's about money," Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, whose kids and grand-kids attended Boys and Girls, said. "Our children are not a business. We want to educate our children just like everyone else wants to educate their children."

Lee Church, former Boy's and Girls basketball star and current representative to Jeffries, made it clear that the Boys and Girls community will fight to preserve its school.

"You're not here coming into a school that doesn't have a plan. We don't need Mayor Bloomberg's plan. We don't need Dennis Walcott's plan," Church said. "We're here to prove a point and show the point that we are here to stay... [Bloomberg's] agenda will not, as much as I can stand in the way, happen here in this building."

...And Let Us Not Forget the Bronx Battle to Save DeWitt Clinton High School
Student speaks out against closing Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx
by Mark Torres

Greetings and peace,

My name is Jonathan Espinosa and I am an alumni from the Macy Honors Program in class of 09...2000 not 1900. I currently am a 4th year student in SUNY New Paltz with plans to graduate next semester. I am sad to say that I saw this coming. We heard rumors before that Dewitt Clinton would close, and there was always resistance, especially from the alumni association, one of the largest in the world. Dewitt Clinton High School is one of the biggest public schools in the Bronx and New York City, and has had the privilege of graduating notable people, from Stan Lee, to James Baldwin. In the beginning, Clinton was populated by predominately white students, yet over the years it has become increasingly saturated by students of color, predominately Black and Latino.

Not surprisingly, as more students of color, like myself, entered the school, the quality of education diminished, achievement gaps grew, teachers and counselors fled, and police force expanded. Meanwhile, the city has a specialized "public" school, the Bronx High School of Science, on the other side of the same block, with predominately suburban "white" and Asian students who arrive here from districts away, and a solar panel on its roof. Down the block, you have Lehman Studies High School, with a similar configuration. Those students have all the books they need, all the tutoring they need, all the safe spaces they need to achieve, absent of any metal detectors and police officers, except for a few security guards who turn their heads away when students admittingly smoke marijuana across the street, on the harris field steps.

Who is to blame for clinton's failing grade? The students? Well to blame the students is to blame the victim, because no matter what laws or policies passed that give us the right to vote, or that supposedly protect us from being discriminated when applying to schools and jobs, people of color continue to be overwhelmingly discriminated and disadvantaged through color blind policies and practices, such as residential segregation, high stakes testing, tracking, stop and frisk, incarceration, the war on drugs, high rates of poverty, low rates of health insurance coverage, malnutrition, and misrepresentation in the government. It is more than just students failing or not wanting to achieve. That argument is too simple. There are other factors to consider. For example, why is it that in 2011, the NYPD reported arresting, on average, 5 students per day in public schools, while 90% were Black or Latino? Who is implementing a school to prison pipeline in our public schools, and for what purpose? Why are there more police officers in Clinton than there are counselors? why were already low performing students increasingly admitted into Clinton with less and less expectation to help them achieve? I believe it was to justify its inevitable closure. I believe there is a hidden agenda behind this closure, like possibly the city's desire for more land space, considering Clinton High School is one of, if not the, largest schools by size and population in the Bronx. Or maybe leaders and achievers of color are not welcomed into circles of power where they have an impact in the way public schools function.

In conclusion, I would like to end on a positive note. As a clinton student, I enjoyed receiving an education that was worthwhile, one that would take me somewhere far by helping me go to college. I had counselors and teachers who supported me, who inspired me to be educated and be a leader in my community. these were people who showed me that with the help of one's community, anything is possible. And yet mayor Bloomberg has proven that it has no intention to provide quality education for all students as Bloomberg's education policies stigmatizes, targets, de-funds, attacks, and purposefully closes public schools. So I share this with you all to emphasize that we as a people in our communities must control our public institutions. we as alumni, parents, students, teachers, principals, even bodega owners, must fight for and protect our children's education so that something like this doesn't happen again. If this letter doesn't stop Clinton's closure, then it will plant seeds among people in the audience to make some moves in resistance to this attack on public education.

Thank you all for this opportunity, and for all who listened. peace and love to all.

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