BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — School safety, better opportunities and increased resources for children were among concerns and desires raised by parents and students set to be impacted by the proposed merging of two Brooklyn middle schools.
Educators and school leaders joined parents at a public hearing Monday to discuss the proposed consolidation of J.H.S. 57 and M.S. 385 in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The plan would combine the two at the start of the 2016 academic year. Both schools struggle from low-enrollment, according to the Department of Education. That creates budget and program issues.
If approved, M.S. 385 would cease to exist as a school option. The students, staff and resources from M.S. 385 would become part of J.H.S. 57. Currently, the two already share a building at 125 Stuyvesant Ave. near Lafayette Avenue and participate in a shared field day and end-of-year school community BBQ.
Under the plan, kids would have access to extended day tutoring, creative arts programs and other options provided by J.H.S. 57, according to the DOE.
Consolidation is the city’s response in targeting under-enrolled schools, serving as an alternative to closing them down, District 16 Superintendent Evelyn Santiago told parents at a previous meeting.
Parents at Monday’s hearing said they were not in opposition to the proposal if it meant it would increase their children’s access to a wider variety of resources, but some said they wished the conversation with officials started earlier.
"I really don’t have a problem with the merger, I think it sounds like a wonderful idea,” said Victoria Liverman, whose son attends 7th grade at M.S. 385. “I just think we should have done this two years ago. I think this should have been clear a little sooner.
“Right now it sounds like the decision has already been made and there’s nothing we can do about it. Because the merger’s going to happen. I feel it in my spirit.”
Liverman raised concerns about outreach to parents, saying more should have been done on the part of the DOE.
An announcement was made in June, according to the DOE, but some felt it wasn’t enough time.
Samuel Owens, PTA president for M.S. 385, brought up the issue of security in combining the schools — both of which currently share the building with The Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance high school.
He said parents from both middle schools have been meeting on the proposed consolidation, but echoed sentiments from others at Monday’s meeting and previous gatherings who said they felt the proposal was presented as a done deal.
In mid-November, the Community Education Council for District 16 passed a unanimous resolution in favor of the planned merger, saying that it would allow students from M.S. 385 to be placed in a higher-enrollment school that “will allow them to receive the quality educational services they deserve.”
The resolution also added that “the benefits of this merger would have been more clear to parents if the Department of Education had communicated this information in a more forthright and transparent way.”
During the Nov. 17 meeting, Santiago addressed concerns from parents, saying that all parties need to work collaboratively and that she has assigned her staff to make sure that all voices are heard moving forward.
Attendees at Monday’s gathering gave their support for the proposal, including students.
“If we combine, we could be the best school and everyone would want to come here,” said J.H.S. 57 eighth-grader Yasmia Birth.
Both middle school principals, Anne Marie Malcolm of M.S. 385 and Celeste Douglas-Wheeler of J.H.S. 57, said the merger would give greater opportunity to their students.
“If we have a school with 80-something kids, it’s difficult for Ms. Malcolm to be able to give all her kids what she wants because it’s just not enough money,” said Monique Barnes, who works at both schools.
“You can’t squeeze juice from a rock…If we’re able to give the children a better chance at everything, I think that’s worth an opportunity.”
A key concern shared by parents and students was the future of teachers at both locations.
If approved, some staff at either or both middle schools may be “excessed,” according to the DOE, which means there would be fewer positions available for the current staff. This would include administrators and supervisors.
Staff would be merged into one list to determine seniority by license for the procedure, and those excessed would be eligible to apply for other city positions, according to the proposal.
A separate proposal discussed Monday would re-site a nearby high school, Frederick Douglass Academy IV Secondary School to share the building and common spaces with The Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance.
The plan would put a total of four schools at 125 Stuyvesant Ave.
Parents and community members can weigh in on both proposals by sending comments to D16Proposals@schools.nyc.gov or calling (212) 374-0208.
The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the plans on Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at the High School of Fashion Industries, 225 West 24th St.