The thirty-fifth city council district’s representative, Letitia James, postponed last Thursday’s press conference in front of 355 Park Place in anticipation of violent weather. At 5:45 the sky was clear. Neighbors gathered – long-term members who have assumed responsibilities for the Park Place Underhill Avenue Block Association (PPUABA), new homeowners and tenants and whom we know well but rarely see at gatherings. We stood in a circle for over an hour and then broke into small groups to continue conversations.
We are gravely concerned, anxious and upset. The previous week we watched large trucks deliver supplies for the two Alternative Learning Centers (ALCs) that the Department of Education (DOE) is moving in to that small building designed as a water and sewage laboratory. I read room destination on boxes - particularly galling because DOE representatives came to the Community Board 8 Education Committee two weeks before without the schemata of how the rooms would be used. Nor did they provide the ‘footprint’ with dimensions of the spaces inside the building, which we have been requesting for months. Since April we have been waiting for the written proposal to site on our corner two facilities for suspended high school students. We still have only rumors about the number of students to be served, running as high as 200.
All formal channels for local discussion and input into decisions about the program are blocked. We worry about the tone of our neighborhood. Equally, we worry about the future of these young people who have had problems. Accountability runs in various directions. We want the proposal in writing so we can evaluate the success of the ALC programs to serve the students, particularly whether they attend and return to their assigned schools better able to handle themselves, pass their classes and graduate.
That will be the focus of the PRESS CONFERENCE re-schedule for this THURSDAY, AUGUST 2nd from 5:45 to 6:45 in front of the building at the corner of Park Place and Underhill Avenue. After Tish addresses the press, we will meet for a SPEAK-OUT when each participant is invited to contribute from 3 to 5 minutes. Then, we can discuss our next steps and plan ahead.
Previous posts on this blog document concerns about the inadequacy of the facility and the repressive aspects of police department military style security procedures. Thorough background information on the DOE policy of student suspensions is available in three research reports published by the NY Civil Liberties Union and available in pdf form on their website: “Education Interrupted” (2011), “Safety with Dignity” (2009) and “Criminalizing the Classroom” (2007).
The young people are coming. How we receive and relate to them and also the long-term struggle around public school governance needs an open and frank discussion. We can assume differences of information, experience, perspective and opinion. Holding the neighborhood together with respectful listening, we can find enough agreement to proceed united. The relationship among established channels (PPUABA, CEC13, CB8), whether/how we engage with existing campaigns (Dignity in Schools for example) and whether we structure a new committee, organzing outreach so everyone can stay informed and involved – these are significant challenges.
Public schools are a responsibility of local and state government. Considering the contexts within which we are engaging ourselves in this particular local struggle will lead us into turbulent political waters. Expect all of the issues of governance to arise. Personal, process and party debates are inevitable and can be engaged in the spirit of common dedication to our homes in Prospect Heights and our future together - with each other as well as with the young people who will soon be joining us.
In following posts I am going to take the liberty of presenting my own thinking to be considered during upcoming discussions and debates. Based on humanistic values, an MS in Social Foundations of Education (CCNY 1971) 27 years of teaching English language arts in NYC public high schools (1975 to 1996 at Prospect Heights HS) experiences in different school systems, election to posts representing school workers for the United Federation of Teachers and a lifetime in the Peace and Social Justice movements (most recently on the Board of Brooklyn For Peace and as co-facilitator of the Latin America Committee). I will make an herculean effort to separate my reporting on the proceedings from my reflections on them. Other perspectives enrich the discussion. Comments on the blog will be helpful. I believe that Democracy is Participation. Also, Ignore your rights and they go away. And Crisis is the same concept as opportunity.