A+ schools fear fallout from failing neighbor

I.S. 162 at 600 St. Ann’s Ave., where one school will close and another will open. Photo: Joe Hirsch

City may move students from failing school to area’s best

Parents at high-performing local schools are worried that years of hard work and academic success could be undercut by the city’s closing of a nearby school.

The city announced in February that it will shut Junior High School 162 at the end of the academic year and open a dual language school in its place. According to the plan, JHS162’s 380 Students will be dispersed between the newly planned school and four of the area’s best middle schools: M.S./H.S. 223, M.S. 343, X298 and P.S./M.S. 31.

If the education department’s Panel on Education Policy approves that plan at a public meeting in Brooklyn on Feb. 28, the new school will open next Fall in the same building at East 149th Street and St. Ann’s Ave. The building houses four other schools and about 1,350 students.

At a Feb. 13 public meeting in the building’s auditorium, parents urged education officials not to overburden the neighborhood’s few good schools by transferring in large numbers of JHS162 students. DOE Senior Deputy Chancellor Dr. Dorita Gibson told concerned parents and children that dispersing its students to the new school and four others is “the best thing to do without displacing students.”

“Dual language is a direct outcome of the proposal made by the community,” said Elisa Alvarez, superintendent of District 7, where schools scored lowest of the city’s 32 school districts last year, though they recently rose two notches to 30th in literacy and math, according to the education department.

“Why weren’t we informed about what you were going to do?” said Belinesa Perez, whose daughter Camila has won scholastic awards in M.S. 223’s lauded dual language program. Perez insisted the DOE inform parents about “how new and incoming students will be expected to adjust,” and suspects the city is keeping parents in the dark to avoid criticism.

Carla Velasquez, parent of an M.S. 343 student, said she wanted her younger daughter to attend that school so the two girls could be together, but she was denied admission. Instead, Velasquez now pays for the youngest to attend a school outside the district. Ironically, she complained, JHS162 students will be able to attend M.S. 343 regardless of their grades.

“Are you going to put 20, 30, 40 kids in each school? How is that going to change the structure of the school?” she asked.

A representative for Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, Neyda Franco, asked the education officials about 162’s 8th graders who don’t graduate. “Where will they go?” The number of students transferred to other schools should be made public, she said. “We in the community must know.”

But school officials repeatedly insisted parents’ worries were unfounded.

“We don’t want to dump—-that’s the word I’ve been hearing. We’re not sending 40 students anywhere,” said Gibson. “No school in District 7 is going to be forced to take students they don’t have room for.”

Parents and staff from JHS162 said the school was improving but was unable to make up enough ground to prevent closure. In 2015 the DOE labeled it a “persistently struggling school,” and placed it in a special supervision program, but it failed to make “demonstrable improvement.”

Deborah Sanabria, who started as JHS162’s principal in July 2015, defended staff and students.

“We were given a year,” said Sanabria. “We met a lot of benchmarks but we didn’t meet all of them. All of the students were in this auditorium and we were fighting,” to stay open.

Parent Reyna Osorio was troubled to hear parents say they want to cap the numbers of students who can transfer. Her son has applied through a lottery for admission to M.S. 223.

“I feel bad,” Osorio told parents from neighboring schools. “I understand what you are feeling but you should understand what we are feeling. He’s about to be without a school.”

162 PTA member Emily Garcia said parents should have been included in the planning process.

“We as parents want to know why we weren’t involved in the creation of the school,” said Garcia. “We need to be involved in the structure of the new school.”

Manuel Santos, a drug and alcohol counselor at M.S. 223, is crossing his fingers. If more than a dozen or so students are brought in, it could lead to “a mass exodus of teachers” and would “undo the fabric of the school,” he predicted. “We have high performers that will be victims for the bullies.”

Lifelong Mott Haven resident Johana Diaz, who serves on M.S. 223’s parents association and has an autistic son there, said she remembered 162’s reputation as an incubator for gang members when she was growing up.

“They’re putting a bandaid on a bleeding wound,” she said, adding that she would like to see the city hire new staff to strengthen good, underfunded schools like M.S. 223.

Ariadna Phillips-Santos, who coordinates M.S. 223’s dual language program, said she hopes the influx of new students is kept to a minimum. In 2011 the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy piece about M.S. 223, its innovative principal, Dr. Ramon Gonzalez, and the award-winning dual language program. That news story helped bring her to the school, and she is hopeful that the essence of the program she has worked to help establish can be maintained and that parents’ voices will be heard.

“The Latino community is being disenfranchised,” she said.

The DOE’s Panel for Education Policy is scheduled to meet on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at Prospect Heights High School, 883 Classon Avenue in Brooklyn to discuss the plan. The meeting is open to the public.