Op-Ed: Freeze school closures and co-locations for third term

If something’s broke – fix it. Sadly, Mayor Bloomberg has a different outlook when it comes to our city’s education system. The administration’s default response to struggling schools has been to close them without first trying to turn them around.

Instead of laying out a plan where more than one school successfully shares facilities in the same building — and assessing its effectiveness on the ground — the administration turns a cold shoulder to community input. We need a new approach.

There is a time and place to close a troubled school. But reflexively closing low-performing schools that have not been given the resources to succeed is no recipe for change.

In 2011, the Department of Education proposed phasing out Canarsie’s P.S. 114. But the unyielding voices of parents, students and teachers were eventually heard. The department later decided that instead of closing the school, it would work to turn it around.

Collaborating with community members like this – and really listening – should serve as a prerequisite for potential school closings. Improvement takes time and continued support, but many of the schools doomed for closure have not been given the tools to improve. Closing a school should be the last resort.

Students at low-performing schools often need the most support. The administration routinely misses the opportunity to flag troubled schools, invest in them, and turn them around.

DOE’s policies have actually often worsened the underlying issues that lead to chronic poor performance – like adding more high-need students to already under-performing schools. The end result? Educational disparities continue to plague our city.

We see the same heavy-handedness in the way the city often shoehorns charter schools into existing public schools, without a strategy for both institutions to thrive. Co-location can be – and have been — successful. The Brandeis Educational Complex, on the Upper West Side, has four high schools with students learning well side-by-side.

But this successful sharing of space and resources can only be carried out through meticulous planning and input from all key stakeholders – students, teachers, parents and advocates.

Instead, DOE has alienated school communities by ignoring their input and providing no venue for meaningful engagement on educational policy. The Brandeis high schools, for example, worked together beautifully–up until the moment DOE shoe-horned an elementary school into the building over the fierce objections of the school community, taking away key space and resources from the adjacent schools.

As a public school parent, I know the difference being involved in your children’s education can make in their academic success. That priority is reflected in the recommendations my office put forth in 2010 to modify Educational Impact Statements and boost parental engagement.

But the administration failed to take our recommendations on community involvement and use of physical space seriously, resulting in a co-location process that is consistently divisive and poorly attuned to the physical needs of mutually-sited school communities.

That’s why I called on the administration to halt school closures and co-locations for the remainder of the mayor’s term. Until we can offer a comprehensive, community-driven plan for co-locations and school turnaround, I urge you to join me in pressuring the mayor to put a one-year moratorium on these divisive policies. After years of disruption instead of progress, and divisiveness instead of a leveled playing field, enough is enough.

Bill de Blasio is New York City public advocate.

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