Working on education issues at NYCC is a challenging job. We get to meet with parents who want the best for their kids, which is great, but we often find ourselves fighting City Hall. We’ve fought for more funding, against school closings, and for a responsible testing and teacher evaluation process. Our latest struggle is against the New York City Department of Education’s misguided co-location policy.
New school construction is at an all-time low, but when the city needs to find a home for a new school, more often than not the DoE places the new school in an existing facility, co-locating two or more schools in the same building. The City DoE devises a plan where two different schools time-share use of common facilities, as in School A uses the gym in the morning, and School B gets the afternoon. The problem is that, more often than not, the hosting school in the arrangement is already suffering from poorly-maintained facilities and/or an average class size creeping up in the face of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, and these co-location agreements exacerbate the situation.
Co-location is one of those things that probably looks better from the Mayor’s office than from the Principal’s office. Parental involvement in the co-location planning process is minimal to non-existent, and when parents do have a problem with a co-location plan pushed out by City Hall, they can plead their case in front of the 13-member Panel of Educational Policy (PEP). This almost sounds fair until you realize the Mayor apppoints 8 members to this panel, with each Borough president getting one apiece until they’ve reached their Baker’s Dozen.
What happened at PS 9 illustrates this best: The grade school’s library was closed and in bad shape. Parents at PS 9 banded together, got some grants from local politicians, donated time and resources, and voila the school’s new library opened last Fall and is a shining example of what happens when parents work *with* school administration in pursuit of a common goal. Then, the City decided PS 9 had to share space with a new middle school. When they divided up the library time, the new middle school got use of the facility for a total of 6 hours and 45 minutes? PS 9? Four and a half hours. The parents of PS 9, he parents of PS 9, who got the funds to renovate the library and then did all the heavy lifting planning the refurbishment, their kids will now get to use their library 2 hours and 15 minutes *less* than the kids attending the new middle school.
This story is just one co-location battle we’ve heard about, and we heard even more last Friday, when we met with parents from across the city who have had enough of this misguided policy. Parents spoke about how their schools are already overcrowded before these co-location plans come about, they spoke about fighting back when City Hall wants to cut school’s budgets, and they offered suggestions and strategies we can use to increase parental involvement and activism. We also discussed how we’d dearly LOVE to reform the PEP hearing process, reform everything from member selection to hearing policies.
And we’re not done yet: We’ve got another Parent Co-Location meeting schleduled for next Tuesday, April 26th @ 6:00 PM. We’re asking parents to bring their co-location experiences and their ideas on fighting back to our downtown Brooklyn office, 2-4 Nevins Street, and join with us in making sure that City Hall’s drive to open new schools all across our city doesn’t cost kids in existing schools their chance of getting a quality education.
We work as organizers here at NYCC. Meaning: We organize parents who believe as we do that every kid deserves a top-notch, world-class education. We help parents fight back when City Hall pushes a bone-headed policy down from on-high, a wrong-headed policy that selects winners and losers as early as the 1st grade, and an unjust policy that so obviously stacks the deck against parents who have the temerity to question City Hall’s edicts.
And if you’re a parent, we’d love to hear from you.