“THE FIRST TEACHER stayed for two months,” said Blanca Roberts, mother of Diana, a first grader at Public School 376 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. “Then she quit. No one told us what was happening. All we knew is that one day, we saw the kids coming out of school with a new teacher.
“The second teacher lasted from November to February, maybe into the beginning of March,” said Roberts. “She couldn’t handle the group. It’s a tough group. They don’t have a lot of discipline. The assistant principal explained to me that the teacher had been dismissed. Other people said she just left.
“The third teacher was a man,” continued Roberts. “He lasted for one day. We had the impression that he was going to stay and be the teacher, but then he left right away. We never heard why. The next teacher also was a man. We thought he was going to be the teacher for the rest of the year. But he stayed for two days.
“After the two men, the school brought in a substitute.”
If you are counting, that makes five teachers for one first grade class, with the month of March just ending today.
And wait: The tally is not closed.
“A new teacher started last week,” said Roberts, “a young woman, very involved with the kids. She is excellent, giving lots of attention to the children.
“She has been there for two days in a row, and we are hoping she will stay. The children are responding much better, and she seems committed to them.”
A single class of first graders in Brooklyn has gone through six teachers in seven months.
These little kids, eager and thirsty, are not on the agenda of the powerful in this town or state. The sovereign business of New York is spectacle: Last week, it was the celebrity police chief; was he pushed or did he jump, how far, how high? The week before, it was the governor’s vows to execute someone.
Meanwhile, the lives of 7-year-old kids continue to rust in plain sight.
Forget about the one class of first graders with the disappearing teachers. Across Brooklyn’s District 32, three out of four children read below grade level. Kids in bi-lingual classes don’t learn to read or speak English. (Annually, only 2.8% of the children in bi-lingual programs transfer into English language programs which means it would take nearly 50 years to teach an entire class English.) In the intermediate schools, about a third of the teachers are absent at least 11 days a year.
Four schools are officially chronic failures and have been for years. These schools change principals as often as most people change their underwear.
“IS 111 at times has the semblance of being a school, but there’s no performance,” said Ray Domanico, executive director of the Public Education Association. “IS 291 is the worst I’ve ever seen. No one would want to send their kids to them.”
Too many of the schools in District 32 hurtle along, year after year, decade after decade, in a dismal orbit of failure. Last week, the chancellor apparently decided to take over the operation of IS 111, one of the chronically failing schools.
It is a small gesture, one that eventually should do some good for the kids in IS 111. But what about the rest of the district? “We want the chancellor to guarantee that 50% of the children in District 32 will be able to transfer to a successful school in a neighboring district,” said Sister Kathy Maire, the lead organizer of the Bushwick Parents Organization, which is an affiliate of East Brooklyn Congregations.
Last year, the group sued the state and demanded that kids not be dumped into failed bi-lingual programs just because their surnames sounded Hispanic. They lost the suit but won the war. The Board of Education agreed to change the policy earlier this month.
“We are not against the bi-lingual program,” said Ada Jiminez, a parent. “We are against the mismanagement.”
It is not bi-lingual classes they oppose. It is the zero-lingualism that results. After three years in District 32’s bi-lingual education courses, 28% of the children actually score lower on English tests than when they entered.
Many of the mothers involved in Bushwick Parents know very well the value of decent bi-lingual programs: they attend English and literacy classes at the Maura Clarke-Ita Ford Center on Menahan St. But they didn’t want their English-speaking kids confined to the educational ghetto of bi-lingual programs.
Common sense won. Last week, the parents threw a party to celebrate. But they are just getting warmed up.
“New York has been stuck in place educationally, no matter which party is in power,” says Domanico, who helped the parents along with the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison.