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School Concerns. I Simply Do Not Understand

Updated on November 2, 2017

DOE: If it is working, we must break it....seems to be their mantra

In 2013, my son who is on the autism spectrum, graduated from a High School that was an unlikely choice for our family or in truth for any family who had the option to go anywhere in our city.

The school we chose, was Port Richmond High School. We chose the school because it is like being home. Maybe not to all students, but certainly to our son who had had a very hard time feeling at home in a school environment. The staff was loving, yet firm. They guided him through structure, discipline and a great deal of love and encouragement.

He is now a college student. Doing very well and dreaming of a future. We owe much of it to Port Richmond HS.

Our daughter did not want to go there. She had her heart set on other schools. But when she shadowed there, she felt the same family environment that our son felt. She felt the love of the staff and she felt the warmth and friendliness of the students who wanted her to join them. To be a part of their community. She walked out of the doors that day and told us she wanted to go there immediately.

Her freshman year was a dream. We had spent so many years fighting with the Department of Education as they tried to dismantle program after program and strip our son of vital services as they do to many disabled students. We were thrilled to have a year of peace where our child was safe, happy and engaged.

Our Mayor and our Chancellor held press conferences at this school and raved about it. On television. About the progress. About the programs. About the staff and the students.

Yet this year. We had a leadership change. Instead of staying with the plan that was bringing our enrollment up. Which had raised our attendance, made our children feel 85% safer in their school community and fostered 89% student engagement. The final piece of the puzzle was graduating in four years. It was the lowest. However there are so many factors that build this school. So many. One is that many of the children speak English as their second language. Some are part of the shelter system. Some are parents who are able to attend our school because we have a day care there. Some are IEP students who have academic challenges. So many factors. To judge us the same as a Susan Wagner or a Tottenville just does not seem fair. Graduation in 5, 6 years was a high rate. So obviously they do indeed graduate, in THEIR OWN TIME.

Of course not every student, many were right on target. Others simply needed a bit more....Why should we push them out when they are not ready? Aren't these are tax run schools? Why don't we have a say? Parents are told your child will graduate but they are not shown the big picture. How will they survive in the world if they have not really been properly educated?

Look at the statistics...graduation rates may be high but if college and career school readiness is low, we have failed our children. Sure they can be pushed through to graduate and make the administrators look good, but at what cost? Their lives? Their reality? In a time when drug use and homelessness is at an ALL TIME HIGH for our young people why would we send them out into the world not prepared and set them up for failure? NO we should not. This was one of the reasons we chose this school, because they nurtured the whole child. Found the possibilities and motivated students who never thought they could, to give it a try.

Enter this year. We prepared to welcome a new, young, possibly innovative principal who was an alumni of all things. Very exciting. However, there was apparently a deeper plan.

The very first word we were met with was CHANGE. Big CHANGE. Our Honors programs would be merged into ONE program. Now the two programs had been revitalized by the former administration for the sake of raising enrollment which it most certainly did and for eventually raising graduation rates, which it was well on the path to doing. The RIGHT WAY. So what purpose would cutting down the seats to this program serve? Also the small classrooms would cease to exist which was another draw for this school.

You see, this school is in a neighborhood that people tend to be afraid of. Simply because they do not understand it. It is filled with immigrants. Many who are probably not here legally but are here nonetheless. They are sending their children to school to help them live a better life. There are low income homes nearby as well. Many people assume the worst and will not send their children to this school. A draw in is a MUST. The two honors programs are draw ins for students who will graduate in FOUR years and will raise attendance rates. Win-win.

Also bringing in and keeping students were the small learning communities. The Med-Tech program. The Culinary program. The Media program. The business program. All boosting students abilities to move forward independently after graduation. To keep them in class. To give them a focus. To get them to SUCCEED after graduation.

We were told they were now open to everyone. Well...they WERE always open to everyone. This was a bit of a wash over. To make parents who did not have children in these programs think they were getting something extra. They are not. Just now, the programs are no longer special. They will not longer emotionally feed the spirits of these children. They will not make them career ready as much as they did prior to these changes.

Our Assistant Principal of Security was not replaced, yet several new employees came who do not seem to fill any particular need. Why? I say all of the time, if it works, the Department of Education will find a way to break it.

A school is not defined by it's leaders. It is defined by it's ability to run as a community. Our experience with this community until this moment has ONLY been positive. As far as the staff, academic capacity and the extra curricular programs, we are still highly impressed at what we are getting in this so called "failing " school.

Our new administrator has been told by her higher ups that our school is a failing school since it is a FOCUS school. Yes, she has been informed correctly, there is a focus. Yes, it is the graduation rate. But basically every other area, had she read the report is area of CELEBRATION. The school was moving forward It was on a path to success. Port RIchmond was on the road to an amazing come back.

So my question is WHY?

Why change EVERYTHING?

Why take away the enrollment possibilities that two Honors programs that were funded by outside sources which gave them the ability to run extra trips and incentives? The funding apparently lost from those sources since in a letter it is declared that we now have our own funding, where it was found is not mentioned.

High enrollment in Honors GUARANTEES that graduation rates come UP.

Why change the small learning communities? What will now boost enrollment?

Why would children come into a questionable neighborhood to attend our school? Also why would the students who live in this neighborhood stay and attend their zoned school when school choice has given them the ability to go ANYWHERE?

In addition, we were informed, via letter and by our Superintendent as well, that students will now be placed according to AGE rather than credits earned. It was explained that this would get them on track. While as an educator myself, I agree that this does work in some cases, on a whole, isn't it just pushing students who are not academically or emotionally ready out of the door? When I asked this question at a PTA meeting I was given the response that students will have the ability to recover credits lost by working with I-plan and Saturday school. I am bewildered. As an educator and a long time Department of Education parent, why would we not want to give our children every single possible advantage when they go out in the world? If they cannot pass the class or attend the class with their friends, what makes us think they will be comprehend subject matter when sitting at a computer or what makes us think they will attend Saturday school? By the way this is the second time this short school year I have heard Saturday school mentioned. The first time was in reference to an entirely different school. Are our kids struggling so much during the week that we are extending school?

I am extremely concerned. Our Superintendent truly believes in this new administrator and her new ideas. Although they were announced prior to protocol based approval, as many other actions have been as well, no one seems to care other than those of us who respect the process and the regulations. It seems that no regulations matter any more. Including censorship of music played in school or language used when addressing the students by some adults in charge. It seems that slang and urban dictionary are now acceptable language.

I have had friends tell me to simply "pull my child out". It is indeed not that simple. My child has had a tough time feeling happy and accepted in school. She is all of those things in this school. She loves all of the classes, has made countless friends who are from all back grounds and abilities. This the 27th most DIVERSE school in New York City out of close to 1400 that are listed. The most ethnically diverse school in our borough. Students are enriched simply by learning about each other. You cannot imagine the wonderful environment that lies beyond the red doors on this building. So many are afraid, they have believed the rumors, they have focused only on one number. My child would be penalized by a transfer. She would lose much of what she has worked hard for at this school. Also does anyone realize that transfer causes students to be suspended from the sport that they have worked hard at possibly most of their life, as my child has, for a period of ONE YEAR? Not that simple indeed.

The direction the Department of Education has chosen to go with this school is the wrong one. It is pushing students who may not have grasp of the language, or have the ability or know how to succeed past being handed a diploma out into the world. Is the legacy we want for our children?

Please do not feel secure in your school. This is a city wide push. This could already be in your school, just match up the college readiness with the graduation rate and see how different it is. The push next is to change the specialized schools as well. Please do not think our problem is not also your problem.

Please speak out for us and for you. This is our tax dollars. We have very capable educators in our system. Some of the best teachers in the country. THEY will reach the children who need help if they are given the tools rather than spending dollars on programs to push students who are unprepared out of the door for the sake of numbers.

We need an administrator who is old school, who will stay on the course that was set. Not sure why this choice was made and why she was encouraged to make such profound changes when only a year ago the success of the school was being cheered was called "A school on the rise."

Very confused and very sad here.


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