“We have children here, not cattle.”
Parents, teachers and students voiced strong opposition to the proposed co-location of a charter school in their building. At an emotional and passion-fueled public hearing held recently by The Department of Education, parents and children turned out in large numbers to give their opinions and to have their voices heard. The hot button topic for discussion was the proposed site of a new public charter school; the co-location of the Teaching Firms of America Charter School into existing neighborhood public school P.S. 308 Clara Cardwell, located at 616 Quincy Street, Brooklyn in Community School District 16. The community centered their objections to the proposed charter school around the issue of teaching space available. The parents advocated for their children’s right to have an “optimum learning environment” and grew frustrated as the children chanted “No Charter” making their voices heard.
The noise in the auditorium at times became deafening and at times drowned out speakers promoting the Charter school as they tried to speak and discuss their planned initiatives for the community. Jeers, yelling, and chants from the audience soon required a chastising from Councilman Al Vann who quieted the crowd telling them “we have to respect ourselves and give respect to those that come.” Confirming that education is his number one priority, Councilman Vann, born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant and a former educator, said he understands the model, aspirations, and goals of the proposed Teaching Firms Charter School and wants it for the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, but after touring the school and speaking with the staff and administration, agrees that there simply is not enough room at P.S. 308. “This is not a good match… the cafeteria is too small, the auditorium is too small.” All co-locations are not bad Councilman Vann admits that the school is not fully utilized, but shares his concern that it is not fair to the children and that “it will not work”.
The Department of Education suggests that the building an accommodate over 1200 students, currently its utilization rate is between 54%-59% and only accommodates around 650 students this school year. The proposal allows Teaching Firms of America to eventually fill the unutilized space over the next five years until the final year of phase-in 2015-2016 when it reaches “full scale” and has approximately 342 students attending the new public charter school in grades K-5th.
Parent Mary Jackson said “I was here at your first meeting and you lied. You told us this was only something you were looking into. You lied. I asked you if this was already decided and you said, ‘Oh no. We’re going to back your feedback. If you took back our feedback we wouldn’t be here today.” Mrs. Jackson was of the opinion that despite the good intentions of the Founder & Managing Partner Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, they were being used to further a privatization agenda of the DOE. “DOE decides where you will go in a public school. You’re like the puppet being moved by strings and you go where they tell you, so I understand your plight.”
Regarding the proposal to take the four lunch periods and combine them into two, Mrs. Jackson said “We have children here, we don’t have cattle.” While you were measuring how many inches were on a floor, you needed to be looking at the children who were on the floor. We don’t raise cattle.”
Speaking of the lunchroom situation, Tiana Santiago testified “There is no room for a charter school. We have to eat at 10:15 in the morning and it’s not fair” to the children. “In the auditorium, parents have to stand in the back” when there are presentations because there is no room to sit said Ms. Santiago.
Yolanda Ford a former student at P.S. 308 said that “Our children are not animals. Our children need ventilation, they need exercise, they need to eat at proper times. If they were your children, you’d feel the same as I do. Look someplace else, there is no room here. P.S. 308 made a difference in my life and I want the same for the other children in the community.”
Parent Cassandra Raiford testified that her daughter, “my success story” graduated from 308, attended Stuyvesant High School and Dartmouth College. “She could have gone into corporate America,” but instead came back to teach at P.S. 308 because she cares for the children in the community. Ms. Raiford voiced the fear expressed by many that the charter school would come in small and eventually push out the other students and staff, “there is no room at 308”.
The meeting adjourned with the community being invited to further express their views by e-mail, D16Proposals@schools.nyc.gov or by phone, 212-374-0208.