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IS 296 Community Protests School Closure

By Meredith Hoffman | February 2, 2012 12:49pm
Oyedele Oyedakin, IS 296 PTA president, said her school needed another chance and more parent involvement.
Oyedele Oyedakin, IS 296 PTA president, said her school needed another chance and more parent involvement.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

BUSHWICK — Even though IS 296 received an F on its progress report last academic year and is rife with safety concerns, parents don't want to see the Bushwick middle school closed.

The Department of Education's proposal to phase out the Bushwick middle school, also called the Anna Gonzalez Community School, by June 2014 met fierce resistance from the community at a meeting Wednesday.

"The DOE did not start to implement corrections," said Evelyn Cruz, representing Rep. Nydia Velazquez at the DOE's forum at the school. "This is a dual language community. What we need are resources."

The school, at 125 Covert St., serves more than 400 students in grades six through eight. The DOE would phase it out and replace it with a new middle school, IS 562. The department has implemented similar closures at other Brooklyn schools, including PS 19 in Williamsburg.

IS 296 students spoke out against their slated school closing at Wednesday's hearing.
IS 296 students spoke out against their slated school closing at Wednesday's hearing.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

Oyedele Oyedakin, IS 296's PTA president, noted that the institution had received an A grade in 2008.

But DOE documents noted that IS 296 was still in the city's bottom 34 percent in terms of academic performance that school year. At that time — before the city reformed its scoring of schools — 84 percent of elementary and middle schools received A grades.

Still, Oyedakin, who has a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader in the school, said she believes the DOE's most recent rating was unfair. It allowed the performance of bilingual students and suspended students to detract from the victories of other kids in the school, she said.

"We never get to talk about the those students," Oyedakin said about the successful kids.

She also bemoaned the meager parent turnout at the hearing, and attributed IS 296's struggles to low parental involvement.

"About 45 or 50 parents are here," she said. "The other 400, I can't tell you where they are."

She said parents do come out in full force to take the school's Saturday GED, computer and ESL classes but rarely come to meetings about their children.

"If the parents don't care," she said, "why should the kids care?"

Still, many students attended the hearing to protest the loss of their school community. They defended the institution's bilingual Spanish-English classes, its Beacon afterschool program that serves as a safe haven, and its number of involved teachers.

"I've been through so much at this school," said eighth-grader Diamond Cumberbatch, praising the attention teachers had given her since she entered the school in sixth grade. "It would break my heart if it closed."

"If you give us another chance we can try harder," Julio, a student who did not provide his last name, said in Spanish at the hearing. "I've learned more English here than ever before."

And Chyna Watson, a 10th grader who lives in the neighborhood and has attended the Beacon after-school program, said the extracurricular activities have given kids an afternoon refuge.

"They have somewhere to go, rather than just roaming the streets," she said. "They have rugby. Before I went to Beacon I thought rugby was just a clothing line!"

Deputy Chancellor David Weiner said the new school, IS 562, would have many of the same services IS 296 currently provides, including a bilingual program. He said parents would be able to meet the leaders of IS 562 to see if they wanted to register their children in the school.

In addition, DOE officials noted that IS 296's attendance rate was below most schools. Safety issues abounded, too, with only half of the students feeling safe in the hallways, they said.

The Panel for Education Policy will vote on the school closure on Feb 9.