Brandeis High School (BHS):
For many years there were rumors within BHS that the increasingly gentrified neighborhood wanted the well-maintained and located BHS building for “their children”. Local residents and political leaders made no secret of their desire for a local school for the mainly white upper middle class junior high graduates of the surrounding gifted and talented programs as well as the highly regarded Computer Middle School. With limited seats and the increasingly selective admissions criteria to the Beacon High School and the deepening economic crisis, many upper middle class parents no longer want to pay for private schools. These forces were able to make common cause with a DOE who is seeking to close large struggling academic high schools that serve students of color.
BHS has historically served a large population of recent immigrants primarily from neighborhoods outside the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Its health careers and business internships, Art Academy, Music Program, extensive Bilingual and Special Education Services, LYFE Centerand School Based Health Clinic have attracted students of color from throughout the city. In addition, each year BHS opened its doors to an inordinate amount of “over the counters” (students new to the U.S. or N.Y.C., those with histories of interrupted formal education, expelled from other schools, coming out of residential treatment, juvenile justice, Rikers Island and from nearby domestic violence and homeless shelters.
Despite the escalating social and educational needs of the student body, the school remained underresourced. The so called school leadership actually reduced the social supports and youth development programs available to students. They also refused to bring representatives of all the stakeholders together and analize the school community in order to develop a comprehensive educational plan to attack issues of poor attendance, gang violence and educational deficits. Instead they chose to blame the victims and their supporters.
Their major scapegoats were students and their parents as well as sympathetic teachers and other staff. Many committed educators were either forced out or left in frustration. The administration increasingly utilized poorly trainned and low wage school safety officers and even N.Y.P.D. officers to deal with social and discipline issues better handled by guidance counselors and social workers. For the students, the atmosphere in the school is more like a juvenile justice facility than a public high school. Nobody is exempt, even relatively well performing students are suspect.
The Parent Coordinator position has been kept vacant. Parents with few exceptions are marginalized to the life of the school. When they are invited in it is usually for disciplinary meetings.
When the NYT announced the closing of BHS, they never dealt with the tremendous success stories. Nor did they mention the recent immigrants, those students needing to work full time to help their struggling families or those young women returning to school after giving birth who were able to against all odds graduate in 5 or 6 years and go on to college. What they did extol is the virtues of an educational leadership who failed in their responsibility to defend their students and seek creative solutions to address the school’s problems. Instead the NYT and this mayor and chancellor conveniently placed the blame for the school’s closure on “poor students and their uncaring and uneducated parents” and bad teachers.
One year after the announced closing, “three small schools” coexist with a dying Brandeis within the building. These three small schools, two having only 9th grade and one a “transfer school” are contending with the exact same students and their issues as BHS with a less experienced staff. Meanwhile the race is on to reduce the BHS student body as quickly as possible. Fewer classes are being offerred and less staff is available to support students who are trying to succeed while repeatedly hearing that their school as well as they, their families and teachers are failures. They look to school staff for stability, but they too are fearful for their future and don’t know where they’ll be from semester to semester. Overage students are encouraged to seek GED Programs. Others are told to apply for transfer schools. But even the students know that there are few options for students who are undercredited, ELL’s, Special Education and young parents needing childcare.
Despite the fanfare regarding their arrival in Sept. 09, neighborhood lore is that all or some of the current 3 new schools will probably be expendable when the “real deal” the Frank McCourt School for Journalism “ a rigorous academic high school” looking for high marks on standardized tests comes into the Brandeis Campus and is fully populated.
Submitted by Ana Kaona