An Open Letter to Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg

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From Councilman Al Vann Regarding P.S. 308


Dear Chancellor Sternberg,
It would be a tragic mistake if you were to recommend that the Panel for Educational Policy approve the co-location of another school within P.S. 308 – Clara Cardwell School.
To your credit, representatives from your office presented the idea of a co-location to the P.S. 308 school community before moving forward with any formal proposal. This is more than has been done in other instances of co-locations and closures, and repres ents the type of true engagement the NYC Department of Education (DOE) should be conducting in communities. However, your representatives led the parents, teachers, and administrators to believe that no decision had been made, and that you were seeking feedback from this meeting.
As we now know, a decision had already been made and the school community’s concerns, feedback and pleas were either ignored or never delivered. There was then, and still is now, unanimous opposition to placing another school into P.S. 308’s school building. That is the feedback you should have received.
The passionate and vocal opposition to this co-location proposal is neither based on pure emotion, nor any anti-charter school sentiment. The opposition to this proposal is based on the fact that the “common space” within the building – the cafeteria, the gymnasium, the library, etc. – is not even adequate for the current student population. The current students of P.S. 308 must begin eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning and as soon as each class is finished eating, its students must be situated in the auditorium for the remainder of their lunch period to allow others to eat. This is something I witnessed upon my recent visit to the school. In an attempt to provide its students with physical education and exercise, P.S. 308 must currently use a classroom to provide “physical activity” for its youngest students because there is limited gymnasium space and limited available time to use it. The students move around in a classroom for exercise because that is what is available. How can the DOE propose to add more students to a building that inadequately provides for its current students? To move ahead with this proposal would be immensely insensitive and disrespectful to the children of P.S. 308 as well as the children who would become part of the proposed charter school.
Additionally, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code, rooms “normally occupied by pre-school, kindergarten or first grade students shall be located on a level [with a direct] exit,” unless another level has access to an exit dedicated solely for students in Pre-K – second grade. P.S. 308 already has a Pre-K class, two Kindergarten classes and two first grade classes. According to your own representatives, there are currently only three available classrooms on the first floor, an insufficient number to contain the additional 114 kindergarten and first grade students that would enter the school next year if the DOE proposal were approved. Neither the Educational Impact Statement, nor the Building Utilization Plan acknowledges or addresses this critical life safety issue.
As you know, I am supportive of the gentleman who developed the concept for the charter school that you propose placing into P.S. 308. I am impressed with him and his school idea, and believe in his vision to serve the children of Bedford-Stuyvesant. However, I cannot support the co-location of his school within P.S. 308 because it is not in the best interests of the students at P.S. 308, the future students of his school, or the community. I am happy, and more than willing, to work with him and you to establish the proposed school within an appropriate setting in my council district.
I have stated to you privately, and now publicly; on behalf of the well-being of our children, it is unacceptable for another school to be co-located in P.S. 308’s building as it currently exists. It is crucial that the impact on students’ learning environment be considered when proposing such changes to a school’s utilization. Forging ahead with this proposal would not only be significantly detrimental to the students at the school, but would also contribute immeasurably to the chasm of trust that exists between the public and the DOE generally, and the demoralizing schism between the Bedford-Stuyvesant community and the Chancellor specifically. As a representative of the DOE, now that you are fully aware of the physical restrictions of the building and the genuine and just concerns of parents, teachers and community alike, I strongly urge you to not submit this proposal to the Panel for Educational Policy.
Allow me to restate my willingness to work with DOE to find an appropriate space for the proposed charter school.