When a city agency implements a program that affects children, the least it could do is communicate with the children’s parents first. At the risk of stating the obvious, here’s another good rule to go by: when a city agency makes a decision that dramatically alters a principal’s school, perhaps it should at least make a show of consulting the principal.
This isn’t brain surgery. But it is a basic lesson in interpersonal relations that the city’s own purveyor of lessons — the Department of Education — stubbornly refuses to learn, despite parental protest after parental protest after parental protest.
So far this year, Brooklyn parents have watched aghast as the city has tried to squeeze a brand-new Arabic language and culture academy into two different school buildings with virtually no prior consultation with the affected communities.
And now, apparently having learned nothing, the Education Department sent a terse email on June 1 to the principal of JHS 265 (a.k.a. the Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts), a Fort Greene middle- and high-school, informing her that a suspension center will be housed in her building in September.
Is it any surprise that the principal is peeved?
Gone are the days when suspended students were left to fend for themselves at home. Now, they’re sent to suspension centers, which the city euphemistically calls “Alternate Learning Centers.”
The placement of the city’s 28 suspension centers, according to Education spokeswoman Dina Paul Parks, is based “mostly, on an analysis of space. Also, enrollment figures, capacity figures, equitable distribution concerns. And then, a walk-through, an on-site assessment.”
All of that sounds reasonable enough. Even more, Parks points out that, “We have an obligation to all of our students, not just the ones who aren’t suspended, to make sure they are serviced well.”
Instead, the principal of JHS 265, located on Park Avenue, between Cumberland Street and Carlton Avenue, was so shaken that on June 4, she fired off a letter to parents encouraging them to protest the decision.
It’s unclear whether the placement of a suspension center with a maximum of 80 students within a struggling school that serves more than 650 kids will further depress student achievement.
“If done properly, it can be beneficial,” said Jon Drescher, associate director of the Principals Academy at Teachers College at Columbia University and a former principal himself, “If it’s not done properly, it can be extremely harmful, in terms of what it does for the overall student population.”
But what is clear is that good-faith communication can help make everyone’s jobs easier.
“Good communication can go a long way toward rectifying programs that parents have doubts about. … I don’t care if it’s bussing or homework policy or cellphones in schools,” said Drescher. “If people hear what the reasons are, most of them will see that the intentions are probably good ones and say, ‘Let’s give it a chance.’”
So come on, you educrats at the Department of Education. It’s time to learn that lesson for good.
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A neighbor of that 16-story tower on Washington and Myrtle avenues complained last week to the city that builders damaged her home during demolition, and then did a shoddy repair job without her permission. The nerve! …
Brooklyn’s own Ira Livingston will take over Pratt Institute’s English Department starting July 1. Pratt plucked Livingston from SUNY–Stony Brook, where he was an associate professor of Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies. Congrats!