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Wadleigh Advocates Worry About Future After School Escapes Closure

By Jeff Mays | February 10, 2012 12:02pm

HARLEM — Despite being given a last-minute reprieve, dozens of parents and teachers from Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts attended the Panel for Education Policy meeting Thursday night where 23 schools were shut down.

They say even though their school is safe for now, it's still in danger because Harlem Success Academy Middle School is scheduled to be co-located at the building in the fall. Many say they are concerned that it is only a matter of time before they get another closure notice from the DOE.

"If you look at the timing of this, we were withdrawn the day before the forum, which really has many people thinking that everything has been resolved in our favor when it hasn't," said Wadleigh librarian Paul McIntosh, who helped lead the effort to save the school from closure.

McIntosh said the performing arts school could lose a band room, dance studio and a multi-purpose drama room when the Eva Moskowitz-run Harlem Success Academy  moves two middle school grades into the building Wadleigh already shares with Frederick Douglass Academy II and an Alternative Learning Center.

The learning center would be moved by the time Harlem Success Academy arrives, the DOE has said.

"Even though the school not being closed is a step forward, it's still a fight for space," said Wadleigh's Parent Teacher Association President Annette Nanton.

"It's not a victory yet until we make sure our kids get the best education they can. At Wadleigh, that means not losing our space for the arts," added Nanton, the parent of an 11th grade student.

Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens said she is intent on working to halt the co-location. She said it's unfair to take space from a public school such as Wadleigh when Harlem Success Academy, run by former councilwoman Moskowitz, has access to private financial resources.

"This model is very intrusive and hurtful of other students" said Dickens.

The DOE has said Wadleigh has underutilized space and can fit another 300 students, which teachers, parents and students strongly disagree with. By 2013, Harlem Success Academy's Middle School is expected to serve 315 students in grades five through eight in Wadleigh's building, according to the DOE.

Officials said Wadleigh's middle school was targeted for closure because of poor performance and low parent, teacher and student satisfaction.

In reversing the DOE's decision, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that Wadleigh was poised for a quick turnaround. The former principal at the school has been replaced.

Wadleigh supporters say intense pressure from numerous politicians, including Rep. Charles Rangel, Assemblymen Keith Wright, state senator Bill Perkins, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and even professor and activist Cornel West, helped to galvanize support for the school.

The school did not receive the support it needed to thrive, critics said at a joint hearing of the DOE and Community Educational Council 3.

"Learning the arts and music also helps in terms of academics," said A.Q. Blackwood, a member of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem which joined the fight to save Wadleigh.

"What message are we sending to the next generation of kids who want to be artists or violinists?" Blackwood said while at the PEP hearing.

Noah Gotbaum, a member of CEC 3, said they still haven't gotten an explanation from the DOE about how the schools will all fit into Wadleigh's building next year. Instead, they were told the principals would work out a space plan.

"Wadleigh was the best organized so the DOE had to throw it a bone if you will, but it's purely temporary. The fire is started and they are just trying to control it," said Gotbaum.

Wadleigh teacher Anthony Klug said just because the school isn't being closed doesn't mean that everything is resolved.

"This happened because of the noise that was raised, but what we are really saying is that schools should be supported and not closed," said Klug.

"Supporting schools is the most important thing."