District 9 Parents March to Demand Improvements to Failing Local Schools
HIGH BRIDGE — Valerie Fernandez doesn’t need to see test scores to know that School District 9 in The Bronx is failing.
Her son, Nick Ruiz, attends fifth grade at P.S. 64, a chronically under-achieving District 9 school that the city could close this year.
Each day, Nick finishes the two math problems he is assigned for homework in about five minutes, he said. In school he feels “kind of safe," he said, "but not that much.”
Fernandez's daughter started kindergarten this year in a trailer outside the school. She was so upset she sobbed and vomited. Fernandez transferred her to another school after three days.
“It’s horrible here,” said Fernandez, 37. “I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy.”
A few dozen parents and students marched to P.S. 64 Wednesday as part of a campaign, which began last school year, to highlight what they consider crisis-level conditions in District 9 and to demand that the school system adopt a serious plan to fix it.
“As a parent, I’m not satisfied with the schools around here,” said Yoshika Buchanan, a member of the District 9 group within the New Settlement Parent Action Committee. “We need a real plan for how parents and schools can work together to get District 9 back on the right track.”
The district includes 69 schools spread throughout parts of Concourse, Claremont, High Bridge, Morris Heights and Mount Hope.
Roughly 40 percent of all District 9 schools fall on the state Education Department’s latest list of the New York’s lowest performing schools. Twelve are included among the bottom 5 percent of all state schools, which is more than in any other New York City district.
Last October, members of New Settlement PAC formed a group of about 50 parents to focus on the long-struggling district. In April, they marched to each of the district’s more than two-dozen schools that the state said must improve.
Eventually they obtained a copy of a city Education Department plan to raise achievement in the district that was outdated and riddled with typos and unhelpful jargon.
“When we saw it, we were actually shocked by how crappy it was,” said Sasha Warner-Berry, a PAC organizer.
So the group convened a forum this spring where more than 100 community members and educators brainstormed ways to turn around the district. Later this month, the group will unveil a comprehensive plan with concrete actions — ranging from personalized instruction to personal greetings — that could revive District 9.
But sights were set on the district’s deficiencies during Wednesday’s march, which wound from an apartment building on Clarke Place to P.S. 64 to the old Taft High School building, now the site of five small schools, of which three are failing and one is closing.
At the apartment, Yoshika Buchanan, the parent and PAC member, described how she pulled her daughter out of P.S. 64 after a series of alarming incidents during her kindergarten year there, such as when she was left outside unsupervised or hit in the face by a boy with a lunchbox, Buchanan said.
Outside P.S. 64, Pedro Sanchez, a third grader, said he is occasionally bullied in school and often distracted during class.
“Some kids don’t listen to the teachers and they run around the school,” said Pedro, 9. “Then we can’t do work because they’re disturbing us.”
At Taft, Marcela Pinso, 16, a junior at the Bronx High School for Medical Science, called her sophomore year “chaos,” with separate classes learning different subjects in the same room and students logging onto computers a handful of times the entire year.
Juana Gonzalez, a mother of two District 9 students with a third set to enroll next year, said she worried her eight-grader would flounder in high school because he had spent his schooldays filling in multiple-choice bubbles, not critiquing texts and writing essays.
She had considered entering all of her children in charter school lotteries to bail them from the district schools.
“But I shouldn’t have to do that,” she decided. “Instead, I would like to be part of changing the history of District 9.”