A new parents’ guide to middle schools in Bushwick’s District 32 has teachers, principals and the superintendent of schools up in arms.

Called “A Consumer’s Guide to Middle Schools in District 32,” the report was compiled by the Public Education Association, a citywide advocacy group.

Its release two weeks ago has school administrators on the defensive, while many parents welcome what they consider an accurate review.

The PEA used student achievement scores from the Board of Education, school visits and interviews with more than 100 parents to compose the guide, said program director Alexei Waters.

“In the short term, I hope the report lets parents make informed choices about schools they send kids to,” said Waters. “But I hope over several years, it helps galvanize parents and community groups to improve the schools.”

PEA flunked two of the middle schools Intermediate Schools 111 and 291 and recommended that parents considering sending their children there “seek alternative school placements.”

The only bright spot at IS 291, it found, was the magnet journalism program.
Otherwise, “IS 291 is a very depressing place to visit.”

IS 111 has been ranked among the worst schools in the city for the last six years, the report says, with only 19% of students reading at or above the national average. PEA also found dirty bathrooms, cockroaches in the food and teachers who stifle student participation.

One school, IS 296, got mixed reviews for academic achievement, security and teacher effectiveness. Noting recent efforts to improve the school, the PEA encouraged parents there to “become active in these improvement efforts.”

Only two schools IS 162 and 383 got good marks for physical conditions and academics. IS 383 is ranked among the best middle schools in the city, said Principal Mildred Boyce. Her students are chosen by entrance exam.

PEA found that one persistent problem at most of the schools was bi-lingual education. Often, kids with Spanish surnames were put in bi-lingual education, even if they were English-language dominant. And the bi-lingual instruction left them still deficient in English.

Schools Chancellor Ramon Cortines was “concerned about the PEA’s findings that show lack of educational achievement,” especially in bi-lingual education, said Board of Education spokesman John Beckman.

“Like schools in many districts, there is significant need for improvement,
and that will require cooperation among all members of the community,” said Beckman.

District 32 Superintendent Felix Vazquez called the PEA guide an “opinion report” that doesn’t reflect changes his principals are making.

“There are distortions of fact and much of it is based on hearsay and innuendo,” said Vazquez. “At IS 111, they maligned the administration, the school and teachers.”

Vazquez noted that reading scores had increased 3.9% from 1993 to 1994. He said the cockroach problem was an isolated incident.

He acknowledged that District 32 has problems, but insisted: “We are working very hard to improve instruction.”

Maria Diaz of IS 111 was “upset” by the PEA report and defended her three-year tenure at the school.

“I would like nothing better than to have a school the PEA approves of,”
said Diaz. “Those reading score increases may be small to you but they are leaps to us. A lot of hard work goes into those small gains.”

Diaz said attendance is up to 84%, and a reorganization of the grades into smaller groups designed to personalize learning is having a positive effect.

At IS 291, Principal Arthur Pennisi said what PEA reported was history and didn’t reflect changes he is making. Pennisi was appointed principal this month, the fourth principal in as many years for the school.

Dominga Sanchez has two children in District 32 schools and welcomes the PEA guide.

“Parents have to become more involved in the schools,” said Sanchez.
“Sometimes we are just complacent with the situation.”

Sanchez, a parent organizer with the Bushwick Parents Association, will distribute copies of the guide to parents in her community.

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