While Mayor De Blasio announces cuts to funds for charter schools, I can only remain very cautiously optimistic. This is our 9th grade hallway, slated to be taken over by Success Academy this summer. After a full academic year of no changes to the space agreement, the space wars resume, sucking up time and energy from administrators and faculty, resources that should rightly be spent serving our students.
Success Academy parents are periodically prompted to don a variety of t-shirts to help advertise the stunningly inaccurate message that “Charter schools are public schools.” This time it was for an October 8th pro-charter rally that parents and students were obliged to attend instead of daily classes. It is true that charter school funds are, in part, provided by taxpayers. In the case of Success Academy, media mogul Rupert Murdoch is also a key funder, who apparently has a vested interest in ensuring that charter schools remain viewed as “public schools.” However, unlike actual public schools, Success Academies can counsel out non-compliant and under-performing students at will. Anyway, those taxpayer funds are diverted through the schools (for purposes supposedly in the interest of children, as in data collection) towards companies, such as Wireless Generation, which are owned by the very corporations, such as Amplify, owned by Rupert Murdoch. So, in a nutshell, corporations fund schools that fund the corporations, making them even richer, all the while using parents’ bodies to falsely advertise their intentions.
School is back in session! Space allotments for each school have not changed as part of a two-year agreement, but bell schedules have shifted to accommodate the inclusion of the charter school in the building. Instead of having lunch during periods 6 or 7, as in the previous ten years, our high school students now have lunch during period 3. As you can see, that’s more like breakfast time. Afternoon now brings with it classrooms full of hungry teenagers.
Although I haven’t mentioned this yet, one discrepancy daily on our students’ minds is the difference in food supplied to the public schools and the charter school. The three public schools in the building share a kitchen and all food is supplied by School Food. The schools have no choice in this matter, and the food, though lovingly prepared by the cafeteria staff, is largely canned, frozen, and pre-packaged. In contrast, the charter school has its own small separate kitchen facility that serves meals delivered daily by Fresh Direct. This is yet another example of the “separate but unequal” services our students experience.
While controversy continues over inequitable improvements to the charter school, internal efforts have been made to build community among everyone in the building. Members from each of the four schools in the building coordinated an Ice Cream Mixer so that teachers and other employees could meet and chat. The event was positive and well-attended, and everyone was friendly and polite. One administrator made a brief speech emphasizing that we are all in this together, as we collectively service a building full of diverse students grades K through 12. With all the staffs together, appearances became hard to ignore. While the staffs of the three public schools are diverse in experience, age, ethnicity, and birthplace, the charter school staff was almost entirely made up of white recent college-graduates in their early twenties, from out of state, who moved to Brooklyn months ago when recruited through programs like Teach for America. The uniformity of the charter school staff stood in glaring contrast to the staffs of the other schools.
When there are nearly 1,000 children in a building, there will inevitably be discipline issues, as is the case in every school everywhere in the world. Normally, if a student breaks a rule, that student is held accountable and punished according to the existing guidelines, in this case, the chancellor’s regulations. Now, due to colocation, when a student breaks a rule, it is no longer a personal issue between administration, the student, and the student’s parents. That infraction becomes a situation that multiple inside and outside parties examine and potentially leverage to make cases for altering the ways space is shared. In other words, kids become pawns to make political moves. Our students are scrutinized by the charter school, who regularly complains about student behaviors. In turn, the charter school itself is scrutinized by the community for its discipline policies for students with special needs, as seen by the press release above. The situation is complex (far too complex for a single small paragraph to adequately address) and obviously troubling. And there is not, at this time, a sense that all the colocated schools are working together to create a supportive environment (though there are some efforts in the works by my school) where all the students in the building, grades K-12, can succeed together, where the success of one school ensures the success of others as well. Rather, there is a pervasive sense of unhealthy competition.
This is the first sign I have ever seen in our building that restricts student access to certain hallways/stairwells. The charter school has complained that students from other schools sometimes make their way into the basement, where the cafeteria and several bathrooms are also located. They evidently are making the effort to shut down these public halls.
Success Academy has a “zero noise tolerance” policy in their hallways, which they expect our students and staff to honor. They requested that the playground be locked after school hours so our students can’t play basketball and handball, which they claim disrupts their teachers’ planning time. Meanwhile, every day (weather permitting), Success Academy students congregate in the courtyard you see here and sing and loudly play. Their songs and shouts interrupt math and science classes in the many rooms that overlook the courtyard. Our middle and high school students regularly complain that it is extremely hard to focus with the noise from outside.
The charter school recently demanded a custodian to lock all of the basement exits after school, so that students from the other schools in the building would not go downstairs to exit. Students from the upstairs public schools were still at events on campus and to leave school they had to climb over a fence, causing an obvious problem. For safety reasons, you can’t have exits locked. At the building council meeting, Success Academy proposed to use the exits only for emergencies. This proposal was voted down. However, they went ahead and put up the signs you see above! And they continue to advocate for our exits being locked.
The lights in the back are the old fluorescents that most DOE schools were equipped with for years, and are deemed unsafe for prolonged exposure. As each strip dies out, it gets replaced with the new lights you see in the front. It’s typical to see classrooms with a combination of old and new lights. The weekend before school opened this September, the charter school laid out $400,000 for a haz-mat team to install all new lights in their classrooms. The lights installed in Success were all taken from storage where they were scheduled to be installed in other schools over the coming months.
AC update! When our high school was located in the basement, each room had one to two working ACs. We moved upstairs to rooms without ACs that were unbearably hot all through September. While most of the second floor is not properly wired for ACs, some rooms are wired and ready. So why weren’t our old ACs simply moved upstairs? When the charter school’s contractors removed the basement ACs, they let the units fall to the ground. Every AC but one is broken! To replace all of the broken ACs will cost $100,000, and SA is unwilling to pay up.
Success Academy, like our school, has carpeting at its entrance. These carpets get vacuumed by our custodial staff, who uses their equipment to clean all the schools housed in the building. However, the industrial vacuum that custodial uses is not functioning. SA purchased a new vacuum cleaner and a carpet shampooer which our custodians must use to regularly clean Success’ carpet. However, despite custodial’s request, SA will not allow the custodians to bring this vacuum upstairs. As a result, our school’s carpets are being swept each day with a broom.
For weeks, several teachers in Global Studies and International Studies have been unable to connect to the internet. Two teachers said that the computer network repairman came by to address the problem and discovered that wires had been cut in the server room to make room for Success Academy, who needs to connect on a different SSID than the rest of the schools, as the Department of Education does not allow them to share the DOE internet connection. I haven’t been able to verify this one way or another. Another teacher pointed out that these holes were drilled through the gym to run Success Academy’s internet wires into our building’s server, which they were not supposed to connect to. The problems do seem to be resolved, but only after a litany of complaints against S.A.
This is a chart to help clarify the space issue in the building. Global Studies and International Studies are each public middle/high schools that have shared the building for many years. Star Academy is a District 75 Special Education school that has has its home in one small corridor. Success Academy is a charter school that has moved into the public building with a new kindergarten and plans to grow to a K-8 school.
This is a real-life actual overheard conversation on the second day of school:
Five-year-old: “Can you kick Global out too?”
Success’ Head of Operations: “We’re working on it.”