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Officials kept in a school daze - South Shore H.S. closure irks Canarsie

Area elected officials are coming down hard on the city’s Department of Education (DOE) for making decisions regarding the future of South Shore High School without consulting either the community or those elected to represent them. At the January meeting of the United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA), which was held at the Hebrew Educational Center, 9502 Seaview Avenue, both City Councilmember Lewis Fidler and Assemblymember Alan Maisel blasted DOE for announcing the decision to close the school and others in Brooklyn, and reopen them as clusters of small high schools as a fait accompli. “I found out about the closing of Tilden and South Shore from the news,” Fidler told his listeners. “They do not consult with elected officials, parents or the community before making drastic changes. That’s outrageous.” It’s also not necessary for them to consult, he added. Thanks to the New York State legislature voting to give the mayor control over the school system, elected officials, he said, “Have absolutely no leverage in the matter.” “My predecessors in the legislature basically gave the mayor a blank check,” noted Maisel. “But nobody though the mayor would be so arrogant and determined to do what he wants without considering anybody else, especially the parents.” Maisel said that it was his opinion that DOE had decided, a year or two back, to close South Shore and Tilden, “Because it fits in with their educational philosophy of smaller schools. When they decided, at some point, not four weeks ago or six weeks ago, they put into motion actions that were determined by them to kill South Shore and Tilden.” How? Maisel said that, if they had wanted to make a go of the two educational institutions, the DOE would have done as it has at other schools, such as Hudde Intermediate School, and made them desirable by putting in programs that would attract motivated students. “They chose not to do that,” Maisel went on. “They chose to let Tilden and South Shore wither on the vine, then they could say, ‘It’s just not working.’ Fidler expressed disgust with the department’s subsequent efforts at outreach. He said that, after a meeting between DOE representatives and elected officials, the agency had said they would hold a meeting with parents. When they finally got around to scheduling that meeting, however, they let him know just a couple of days before. “I’m all in favor of them trying to make schools better, but I’m not in favor of them telling us after the fact,” Fidler noted, “and I’m not in favor of their giving us input by holding a two-hour meeting in downtown Brooklyn that nobody knows about.” And, even worse, said Fidler, was the department’s decision to hold it not in the neighborhood where South Shore is located, but at a downtown high school, in the early evening, while members of the community may still be traveling home from work. “If this is what they mean by engaging the community, it’s absolutely absurd,” Fidler contended. Overriding concerns are whether the decision to close South Shore and Tilden, and reopen them as groups of small schools, will negatively impact both the students that would attend those schools as well as those attending other nearby schools, which could conceivably become more overcrowded because of the change. “The Department of Education is shameless,” noted Maisel, a retired assistant principal. “They have no intention of listening to anyone because they have all the answers. Chancellor Klein is a prosecutor. He knows as much about education as my grandmother. But, he’s a prosecutor, so he takes no prisoners.” Maisel also said that he was concerned that the low-performing students that typically attend the schools would end up, “Basically scattered to the wind. They are not going to be monitored. They are not going to benefit from the attempt to turn these schools around.” “If they’re not able to fix Tilden and South Shore,” noted Fidler, “I don’t want them dumbing down Canarsie, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Madison, which are all over-capacity.” While said Fidler, DOE officials told him, “They are not sending any additional students to those schools,” he said they were not able to answer his questions satisfactorily. “I said to them, explain to me why a parent who is going to fill out an application form for high school for their child is going to voluntarily opt to send their child to a school in a building where the remaining students have been branded as a failing educational institution, and, in Tilden’s case, which is unsafe. Their answers to that are nonsensical.” The verdict on small schools is still out, noted Maisel. Proponents, he said, cite research which indicates that children can do better in them, because they can get more personalized attention, while they might get lost in larger schools.

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