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P.S. 64 Parents Want City to Protect Their Kids Amid School's Demise

By Patrick Wall | February 25, 2013 2:49pm

HIGHBRIDGE — P.S. 64 has fallen so far that some parents say they have stopped trying to save the failing school and instead are working to protect their children the fallout of its closure.

After a stressful classroom made her daughter’s weight fluctuate, her mood darken and her grades plummet, Olga Hernandez convinced the principal to move her child to a new class.

Since her son almost never has homework, Ella Johnson has started assigning him nightly problems from a workbook she bought.

And Edna Wilson, whose granddaughter’s grades started slipping almost as soon as she entered P.S. 64 in September, has spent $240 per month for a private tutor and also volunteers three days a week in her classroom.

“This is an emergency,” Wilson said at a public meeting last week where the Department of Education described its plan to phase out P.S. 64 and open two replacement schools next year.

Parents at Thursday’s meeting agreed that P.S. 64 is failing, but they wanted assurances that the new schools would avoid a similar fate, that parents would play a larger role in the building and that current P.S. 64 students will not have to wait for a better education.

“Bringing in new schools in September,” Wilson said, “will not help my child now.”

Parents and students cite a litany of problems at the elementary school at 1425 Walton Ave., from ineffective teachers and overcrowded classrooms to limited computers and lax discipline.

Johnson’s son, Dakwon Grant, a second-grader, said little learning takes place in his loud, unruly classroom, which is made worse by the lack of homework.

“They’re not giving me enough work,” said Dakwon, 8. “I want new teachers to give me more work.”

Less than one in five P.S. 64 students passed the state English exams last year and just over one in four passed the math tests. The school ranks among the lowest 1 percent of elementary schools in the city and the worst 5 percent of schools in the state, according to the DOE.

The city plans to stop admitting new students to the 870-student P.S. 64 and remove one grade level each year until it closes in June of 2016. At the same time, the two new schools will open in the building and add grades each year, until they serve up to 885 students in grades K to 5 by September 2016.

One of the new schools will offer a Spanish dual-language program, as P.S. 64 currently does.

Many parents fear that students now in P.S. 64 will suffer as the school winds down.

To address this concern, a group of parents has drafted a list of recommendations for the phase-out, which they have shared with school officials.

Suggestions include offering tutoring to struggling students, incentives to effective teachers who stay during the phase-out and admissions priority for P.S. 64 students who want to transfer to other schools.

The group, which is part of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, also listed ways to ensure the new schools fare better than P.S. 64.

They called for experienced principals, coaching for new teachers and parent input in the hiring process.

“They need better teachers, better staff and better communication with parents,” said Johnson, Dakwon’s mother. “If there’s any way I can help my child, just ask me.”

The parents in New Settlement PAC also insist that the local school district — District 9, one of the city’s lowest performing — needs an overarching improvement plan, not just scattered new schools or piecemeal fixes.

They note that the problems at P.S. 64 and the district are longstanding.

In 1997, for example, only 20 percent of P.S. 64 students passed a city reading test given at the time and just 27 percent passed the math test — figures remarkably similar to the school’s current 18 percent pass rate on the state English exams and 27 percent rate in math.

“It’s been a long disaster and the children are the ones being harmed,” said Michelle Reyes, a PAC member with five children who have gone to school in the district.

Corinne Rello-Anselmi, a deputy schools chancellor who spoke at Thursday’s meeting, said the DOE had offered extensive support to P.S. 64 and had a “targeted plan” to assist students during the phase out.

“We will not be turning our backs on the students that remain,” she said.

The DOE’s phase-out plan must still be approved by a vote of the Panel of Educational Policy in March.