Parents, kids rally to save school

Students held placards on Nov. 15, urging the city not to close their school.

City Councilwoman joins call to city to keep P.S. 369 open

Around two dozen parents and students from P.S. 369 rallied Thursday night against the Education Department’s decision to consider closing their school.

Joined by City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the group marched from the school on E. 140th St., also known as the Young Leaders Elementary School, to the nearby post office, where they sent several envelopes with students’ requests not to close the school to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“The administration is too quick to close our school,” Mark-Viverito said. “And the message it sends is that we are giving up on our neighborhood, we are giving up on our students.”

Young Leaders Elementary School opened in 2008 to replace another school, P.S. 220, that  the Bloomberg Administration designated as underperforming. Now it shares a space with two other schools in the same building.

The school’s progress reports from 2009 to 2012 show that it received a D each year, but parents said it had shown some improvement.

Love Andujar, 34, said the school’s performance is low because of the high percentage of students who speak English as a second language and the large number of special-education students.  She said it’s not fair to compare their test scores to students in other schools across the city.

“Even though we did get a D rating, our school has made a significant improvement over the last three years and the grades were going up,” said Andujar, whose 7-year-old son Aaron attends the school.  “Not as quickly as Mayer Bloomberg or the DoE would like, but it is significant.”

This year the education department included P.S. 369 on a list of “early engagement” schools, which means if the school fails to improve its grade, it could be closed. In a statement, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the school’s appearance on the list was just the beginning of a conversation about the school’s future.

“We’ll take the feedback that we receive from the school and community into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success, and we will continue to work with all of our schools to ensure that students have access to high quality options,” Sternberg said.

When parents found out that their school was on the list, they sent concerned emails to Chancellor Walcott, but the department never responded, they said.

Parents say they are doing their best to save the school and improve the scores, but the school doesn’t provide kids with resources such as an afterschool program. Grades continue to drop, especially under the closure pressure.

“Kids are stressed out. They are saying they don’t want the school to close,” said Maria Eshevarra, 46, mother of Elizabeth, 9.  “Everybody is focusing on this. I don’t think anybody is paying attention to the academics right now.”

Eshevarra also said the students take the test at the wrong time — especially 3rd graders, who are taking the test for the first time.

“The testing happens after spring-break,” she said. “I feel the city, or the state, whoever is in charge of these tests, should give it either before the spring break or give it a little later, because kids need a little more time.”

Sonia Gutierrez’s son, 10-year-old Christopher, studied at P.S. 369 since it was P.S. 220. Gutierrez said she can see the staff’s loyalty and devotion to their work.

“The art teacher travels two-and-a-half hours every day from Philadelphia to teach the class,” she said. ”That is the type of the teacher who is passionate about his career and who comes here to help our kids.”

Gutierrez had to transfer her younger son Christian, 8, to another school because Young Leaders couldn’t provide him with a necessary special service.  She has to travel to East Harlem every day to fulfill that son’s needs instead of receiving the same service at her local school.

“There are a lot of parents that have to transfer their kids out of a good school because they got special needs to another school,” she said.

The parents said they are not going to give up without a fight.  Their next goal is, with the help of Mark-Viverito, to talk directly with a Department of Education representative.

“This is the beginning of a long fight,” said Andujar.