turf wars

East Harlem parents pre-emptively organize against charter school

Some East Harlem parents aren’t waiting to find out whether a charter school will move into their school building before organizing against the possibility.

Parents at the Manhattan East School for Arts and Academies recently got wind that the Department of Education was considering placing Harlem Success Academy 5, one of three new charters Eva Moskowitz plans to open next year, in their building. The plan would call for Manhattan East to move to another building across the street to create space for Moskowitz’s school.

The founding principal of Manhattan East, Jacqueline Ancess, said that the DOE did not tell the school that it could be moved; rather, the current principal and parents association head found out that a move was under consideration at an unrelated DOE meeting “by accident,” she said.

Ancess and the school’s parent association responded by sending out a letter yesterday asking parents and supporters to call the city’s information hotline today to ask the city not to relocate the school.

“Manhattan East is a very successful school,” the message urges parents to tell the city. “Moving Manhattan East from its home is unconscionable.”

DOE officials said school supporters’ outrage is premature. “We’re still in the process of looking for space for HSA 5 in District 4,” said DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte. “At this time, no decisions have been made.”

A DOE official said that while the building where Manhattan East is located had been under discussion as a potential location for the new HSA school but that it was not currently a likely choice.

The situation reflects an environment of heightened mistrust of the DOE among parents at many district schools in neighborhoods where charters are also expanding. Across the city, the DOE’s plans to place charter schools in buildings inside district school buildings frequently have been met with fierce resistance from parents at the district schools, who argue that their schools should not be required to give up space and resources for charter schools.

Ancess said that even if thoughts of moving the new HSA school into Manhattan East’s building are abandoned, the fact that the DOE would consider moving a successful district school to give space to a new charter demonstrated that the city is giving unfair preference to charters.

“It’s okay with them to consider moving Manhattan East, for a school that doesn’t exist yet,” she said. “That’s what is shocking to me.”

Here’s the letter that the former head of Manhattan East, Jacqueline Ancess, sent out to parents:

Dear Family and Friends,   The middle school I started nearly 30 years ago is in trouble and I need you to help.   Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2 p.m., please call 311 and protest the plans of the NYC Department of Education to permit a charter school–Eva Moskowitz’s fifth “Harlem Success Academy”–from displacing Manhattan East from its home in the building on E. 99th Street.  I suggest that you might tell the 311 operator the following:   “This is a complaint to the NYC Department of Education. I am strongly opposed to the Department of Education evicting Manhattan East from JHS 99 to make room for Eva Moscowitz’s charter school. Manhattan East is a very successful school. Moving Manhattan East from its home is unconscionable.”

Here is what is going on: In a secret deal between Moskowitz and the DOE, without any notification to the Manhattan East community, the stage has been set to eject the school from the home it has been in for over fifteen years.  Manhattan East would be the first successful school that the DOE has tried to oust from its home in an effort to accommodate charter schools at the expense of public schools. Moskowitz, who makes close to $400,000 for managing three schools (more than even chancellor Klein), has made no effort to contact the Manhattan East principal or the PTA president.

This is an unprecedented outrage and the DOE needs to hear your protest.  Call tomorrow and let the DOE know that as a New Yorker and a friend of Manhattan East, you will not stand for their arrogant misuse of power.

This is only one instance of an attack on the public school system by the very people who should be protecting and supporting it.

Please pass this on to other friends of Manhattan East.  Thank you.   Jackie

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.