June 6 Meeting Recap

Greetings, parents! As you may know, we called a meeting Saturday for parents interested in improving Bed-Stuy's public schools. More than 20 parents attended, with probably half as many more writing to say they were unable to attend but interested in getting involved. That's a lot of energy and talent, and we haven't even done any real outreach yet! We also have, thanks to Rahwa, this WordPress site and a mailing list! Aaaaannnd (drum roll please) we have action items! Scroll down for those. We began the meeting with introductions and most parents expressed an interest in a progressive, local option for public school for their child. (We had lots of toddlers on down to tiny babies present).

We then had a quick overview of District 16 grade schools. In short, the district lacks many of the education options available in other areas. We have no gifted & talented classrooms, no dual language programs, and no magnet schools. All of our elementary schools are underenrolled and below capacity, because many parents look outside the district for better schools. Underenrollment leads to underfunding.

Other than charters, we have only one unzoned school, the Brownstone School. (Most schools serve a geographical zone; unzoned schools can take students from a broader area. Arts and Letters in Fort Greene, for example, is an unzoned magnet school that gives preference to kids in District 13, and is so popular that kids from other districts basically can't get in. District 16 does not have a school like that.)

We then went over options for change:

1) Start a new school.

One instructive example is the Brownstone School, started by Bed-Stuy parents who wanted a progressive alternative. However, according to one of the founders, the group did not adequately define what it meant by progressive or enshrine progressive philosophy into the design of the school, and the parents who started it did not have a critical mass of children the right age to attend the school when it opened and ended up sending their children elsewhere. (This is one reason we set up the group primarily for parents of children four and under.) There was also a timing issue -- the school was given the green light in June to open in September, not enough lead time. (On the other hand, this founding parent said, the principal is very responsive to the desires of the parents at the school.)

Pros: design philosophy and curriculum from scratch, hire staff from scratch.

Cons: The current Chancellor has not yet put a process in place to propose a new school; the previous process has been dismantled.

1a) A teacher who lives in Bed-Stuy has proposed to start a satellite campus of an existing school, the Brooklyn New School. However, this idea also lacks a model or a clear process, and the prospects are unclear.

2) Start an independent charter school

Pros: design philosophy and curriculum from scratch, hire staff from scratch.

Cons: There is currently a state cap on the number of charters. No new charters until the cap is lifted -- which is politically possible but hasn't happened yet.

3) Start a program at an existing school: Gifted and Talented (for children that score above a certain cut-off point on the G&T test), Dual Language (children are taught immersively in two languages) or Magnet (magnet schools have a special focus, like technology or the arts, receive federal funding to serve historically underserved communities, and are unzoned -- any city residents can attend regardless of address. The next round of applications to become magnet comes in 2016).

Pros: leverage since the district has none of these. Ability to shape the curriculum and push it towards the progressive end of the spectrum. Magnet brings an influx of money to the school. G&T may be embraced by broad segments of the community. Also may have political ally since apparently our councilman, who did not return our emails about this meeting, is interested in expanding these programs in the district and the education committee of the Community Board would also provide support for such an effort. (As a side note, the district superintendent has not been very responsive).

Cons: G&T is restricted to children that score well enough on the test. Dual Language is challenging because teachers are hard to find.

4) "Adopt" a school. Choose one school and form a "friends" group to support/fundraise there, even before kids are old enough to go. Everyone enrolls their children there and gets involved in PTA and School Leadership Team (elected parents who are part of the governing body setting school policy). Look for a school with a receptive principal.

An example of this is P.S. 11 in Clinton Hill, where parents formed a Friends of P.S. 11 group. There was no special program started, but the principal was replaced by a progressive principal and the school became highly desirable with a long waiting list though it remains a zoned school (anyone can apply to a zoned school even if they do not live in the zone). However, the transition was rough and conflict-laden.

Pros: Buy-in from district, Department of Education, politicians, etc. is not required. Schools can transform quickly and there are several examples of this. An "adopted" school could also eventually develop a G&T, dual language or magnet program.

Cons: Change is gradual and incremental.

After this overview, there was a general discussion and questions. Michelle, a teacher in central Brooklyn, advised that School Leadership Team meetings are open to the public and the meetings must take place ten times a year. This group is made up of teachers, administrators, parents and sometimes students. Michelle also informed us that districts in central Brooklyn have highest number of charter schools in city & highest number of homeless shelters; thus, public schools service very under-resourced communities. She said that principals have a new contract that gives them an incentive to retire this year.

It was decided for the purposes of conveying strength and developing a public identity, the group should become a committee, the Bed-Stuy Parents Committee.


Many of those present expressed interest in "adopting" a school, so it was suggested that parents try to scope out some neighborhood schools before the end of the year. Schools mentioned included the Brownstone School, P.S. 262 (El Shabazz), P.S. 21 (Crispus Attucks), P.S. 5 (Ronald McNair) and others. Attempts will be made to set up tours at some of these schools and the information relayed to the group.

PS 5 is already having an open house this


P.S. 5 Dr. Ronald McNair School

820 Hancock St.

School Tour

Thursday, June 11 from from 9 a.m. to noon.

It was agreed that members of the group should become more visible at public meetings on education. And, lo and behold, there is one coming up:

Education Town Hall

Thursday, June 18

6:30 to 8:30

St Francis de Sales School for the Deaf

260 Eastern Parkway

to be attended by members of Congress, the State Assembly, the City Council, and the BED-STUY PARENTS COMMITTEE!

Lastly, Rachel suggested that the concept progressive education be more thoroughly discussed and defined at the next meeting, to be held (by popular demand) in July. We may invite presenters to speak to us; if you have a good idea for a speaker on progressive education, please email it in. We will follow with a group discussion with some help from Alie.