By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio told students and teachers at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts in Harlem that they must organize if they want to prevent a plan to co-locate a second school in their building.
"There is a struggle going on over the future of this building," de Blasio told students. "Power grants nothing without a demand and people have to stand up and fight for what they believe."
The Panel for Educational Policy approved a plan last month for Harlem Success Academy to move several grades into the building on West 114th Street that is currently occupied by Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II.
Officials at the school showed de Blasio the art and dance studio which they said would be converted into classroom space. Students also performed spoken word, dance and displayed their painting in an effort to show that they deserve the space they have.
"You have the authority so we are asking you to bring other people in to see the art and the spoken word and all the good things we are doing here," said Karina Encarnacion, 18, a Wadleigh senior and school president who will attend St. John's University next year.
"Another school would take a lot of space. We are already cramped because there are already two schools here. If we can get his help, we can have some support," Encarnacion added.
Students should fight until the plan is implemented, de Blasio said. As an example he used PS 114, a public school in Canarsie, Brooklyn that the Department of Education wanted to close because of poor performance. That school received a reprieve last month after parents and teachers argued that it was the poor leadership of a former principal that landed the school on the list of those slated for closure.
"If parents, teachers and students continue to demand something different until a new reality occurs then there is a chance of stopping or altering this decision," de Blasio said.
Wadleigh Principal Herma Hall pressed de Blasio for a more specific solution, asking specifically what he was going to do.
"I don't have a silver bullet here," de Blasio said.
Noah Gotbaum, president of District 3's Community Education Council, said he too wanted more specifics from de Blasio, but said that the public advocate was right when he said the school needed to get organized and fight.
He advocated for the passage of proposed legislation that would halt co-locations and also change the way the DOE determined available space.
"Wadleigh is lucky that co-location is not happening for another year. My hope is elected officials will be successful in reaching a moratorium," said Gotbaum.
"I believe in my heart there is time and the opportunity to protect what is here and get something better done here," de Blasio added.
Encarnacion said de Blasio's support was encouraging.
"I feel like we can count on his support and that he can help bring us more support. Even though I'm graduating, I still care about what's going to happen at this school," she said.