Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Battle in School District 17

Lefferts Gardens Charter School vs. Public School 92

There was a public hearing on Monday night to listen to views on siting the Lefferts Gardens Charter School at PS 92 on Parkside Ave between Bedford and Rogers in Brooklyn. There hasn't been anything good said about charter schools in the news lately and being very interested in the charter school, I thought it important to attend. I was not prepared for what I witnessed and even saying I was surprised doesn't cover it. I was in utter shock.

It seems there is a major backlash going on right now in relation to all of these mini public schools that are being approved by the Board of Education in New York City. Concerned parents want to know what will happen to their children and why is it that the Mayor and the Chancellor are allowing this kind of free thinking approach to take root. Some asked why they are supporting efforts to break away from traditional teaching. In some cases charter schools are only suppose to be temporarily housed at already established public schools, a few have  remained at the site. Some parents believe this brings enrollment down for the original school. (Please note: Schools are chosen to support co-locations because they have space.)
In my humble opinion and from my research, School District 17's scores are not up to par. The young professionals living in the neighborhood are not satisfied with what they are seeing and refuse to spend their time driving the kids back and forth to places like Park Slope and beyond. A few longtime residents joined in with other interested parties to form a community alliance for the betterment of their children and like minded parents in the district. Is this so wrong?
I sat in the audience, comment less and clapping after every speaker. Honestly, all the statements made were in the best interest of the individuals speaking. I tried to objectively look at both sides and understand that the people who finally vote on the way the wind will blow have a tough decision ahead of them. (To be held Feb. 24 at the Fashion High School in Manhattan.)

Some people voiced their opinion that charter schools are pseudo-public schools and are really only a way of getting free money. These entities then squeeze out the real public school kids because they get more benefits from our government and they can fire under performing teachers which keeps the cost down.

There was certainly a good crowd for both sides, but I was a bit appalled at the way the meeting progressed. I really didn't expect to see people shouting and disrupting the proceedings. Yes the topic is hot, yes it is touchy and no one wants to feel like they are not being heard but what happened to common courtesy.

From PS 92 the concerns were mostly about space, numbers, fighting and no one being there before hand and now that they have developed into a beautiful school, everyone wants in. "Get your own stage and your own curtains", one of the parents shouted, "cause we are not sharing!" The sign waving and disrespect continued even though the panel reminded everyone to remain civil.

From the charter school side, being a community grassroots effort by parents overshadowed that the program they were proposing. It doesn't exist in the district nor does a green school who has partnered with resources in the area like the Botanical Gardens and the Prospect Park Audubon center to conduct classes. It also made no difference to the PS 92 folks, who believed because of all the layoffs of support staff they don't have the man power to take the kids on field trips of this nature.

Both sides had reasonable arguments. Some parents left disappointed that the animosity towards them was so apparent; the mix of race was 70% African American and 30% Caucasian. It looked like and sounded like the minorities were trying to take over the neighbor and the old talk of gentrification surfaced. Race and segregation was again on the table. Is it a money issue, a union issue, a segregation issue, a gentrification issue? I ventured to think it is more of a selfish issue. Everyone wants what is best. But what is best?

Questions only lead to more questions and no one really has the answers. All in all I don't think that I really understand who won that round at the hearing Monday night but it certainly was not the children of District 17.

Thanks for reading,

A very concerned parent looking for answers.

As of today 2/25 - LGCS was approved to co-locate at PS92.

Hawthorne Street:
Lefferts Gardens Charter School Info Sessions:
Upcoming Hearings:
School Types and Choices:

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