Bronx School Closures Cause Anguish Among Parents

 

School’s out at the Lola Rodríguez De Tió School. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Finding a new school for one’s children in the Big Apple can be a real headache, and that is the situation parents of students attending J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodríguez De Tió will face at the end of the current school year.

The institution is one of the six public schools the Department of Education (DOE) plans to shut down this year due to poor performance, even though they were part of the Renewal School Program that aims to prevent the closure of troubled schools.

“As parents, we are frustrated because we have a son with special needs,” said 33-year-old Soledad Jiménez, born in Mexico. She and her husband, Ángel González, 44, said that they were happy when they found out that junior high school Lola Rodríguez De Tió had all the services their son Luis, 12, needed.

Although they had heard that a number of schools in the Bronx would close, the parents had not received an official notification that their child’s was on the list. “You can imagine, now we’re back to square one,” said the anguished mother as she describes the challenge of finding another school providing the services Luis requires.

Student Luis González, with his father, Ángel, and his mother, Soledad Jiménez. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The Bronx will lose more schools than any other borough in the city. Aside from Lola Rodríguez De Tió, junior high school Arturo Toscanini and the Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design will be shut down.

Hispanics make up the majority of the student body at these three Bronx academic institutions. In both junior high schools, Hispanics represent 70 percent, while at Monroe Academy they account for 79.3 percent of the student body.

“The school closures only demonstrate that we have to do more to provide our youths with quality education,” said Rafael Salamanca, council member for the area where the Lola Rodríguez De Tió School is located.

Salamanca insisted on the need for community leaders, teachers, the administration, parents and elected officials to come together to identify what is working and what is not. “We cannot allow more school closings to happen in the future,” he added.

Closures in other boroughs

One school, the Leadership Institute, will close in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, M.S. 584 and the Essence School will be shut down.

The closure of six schools in the three boroughs means that nearly 1,400 students and 131 teachers will have to be transferred to other institutions.

“In making these tough decisions, our first priority is always to do what is best for students,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

The chancellor explained in a statement that the Department will “work individually with every student and family to ensure they have a seat at a higher-performing school where they will receive the instruction and support they need to succeed.”

Broken promise

The closure of these schools breaks Mayor de Blasio’s promise not to do so and raises questions about the efficiency of the Renewal School Program, in which all six schools to be shut down were participating.

The initiative, launched in 2014 with 94 low-performing schools, offers the worst schools in the Big Apple the opportunity to overcome such conditions by granting them additional funding to help them provide better counseling, social services and general resources.

When de Blasio kicked off the Renewal School Program, he stressed that, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, he would do everything in his power to avoid closing low-performing schools, and that this would be the plan’s main objective. Still, last year alone three schools in the program closed and seven others were merged.

The DOE’s proposal to close these institutions remains to be green-lighted by the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP). Upon its approval, the number of schools in the Renewal program will drop to 78.

Public Advocate Letitia James said that the closures will have a negative effect on the schools’ students. “While the concept behind the Renewal Schools Program was well intentioned, the DOE has struggled to properly execute its mission, leaving thousands of our most vulnerable students behind,” she said in a statement in which she called for reform for the $400 million program.

According to the city, deficient schools are either closed or merged with others when they do not meet the goals established by the DOE.

“I have visited several Renewal schools across the city and have seen firsthand the hard work that is being carried out,” said MaryEllen Elia, New York State education commissioner. “While many of these schools are showing significant signs of progress, some of them continue to present difficulties, and those situations must be dealt with adequately.”

The teachers speak

A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) said that “lack of stability and strategic direction has contributed to the failure of these schools, frequently due to director rotation.” M.S. 584, for instance, had three principals in three years.

According to the UFT, ever since these schools were labeled as deficient schools, a lower enrollment rate of nearly 25 percent has also been observed.

“However, teachers, unhappy with the conditions provided for teaching and learning, have quit more often,” said the spokesperson, adding that, of all teachers working at these schools in the 2012-2013 year, 61.3 percent have left, “looking for better leadership in schools located in other districts or in pursuit of new careers.”

So far in the 2016-2017 school year, 22 teachers have quit at the Lola Rodríguez De Tió School.

Aside from closing these six institutions, the city plans to merge three other schools that are also part of the Renewal program and share their facilities with other schools. The North Bronx School of Empowerment will merge with the Young Scholars Academy in the Bronx, which is a Renewal school. The Automotive High School in Williamsburg, also a Renewal school, will merge with the Frances Perkins Academy. Finally, the Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance in Bed-Stuy will merge with the Frederick Douglass IV Academy, in the program as well.

Renewal School Program Executive Superintendent Aimee Horowitz pointed out that the proposed closures and mergers are in the students’ best interest. “We continue to be committed to constant and consistent progress at Renewal Schools, and we continue to provide essential resources and support to parents, families and staff,” she said.

The closures, in numbers:

  • 6: Schools proposed for closure at the end of this school year by the DOE
  • 3: Schools to merge with other institutions
  • 1,479: Students affected
  • 131: Teachers affected
  • 23 percent: The drop in student enrollment at the six schools since school year 2012-2013
  • 92 out of 150: Teachers who quit between school years 2012-2013 and 2016-2017, or 61.3 percent.

Hispanic students affected:

Bronx

  • Lola Rodríguez De Tió: 69.8 percent of all students are Latino
  • J.H.S. 145 Arturo Toscanini: 69.2 percent
  • Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design: 79.3 percent

Manhattan

  • Leadership Institute: 60.6 percent

Brooklyn

  • M.S. 584: 22.8 percent
  • Essence School: 20.2 percent

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