DOE gets ‘small minded’ with middle schools – Buildings to house new programs come September

By Michèle De Meglio

East Flatbush will soon be home to additional small schools. The city Department of Education (DOE) has announced that small schools will open in the buildings of two local middle schools in September. At I.S. 232, located at 905 Winthrop Street, opening in the fall will be the East Flatbush Community Research School, which will foster in students a sense of civic responsibility and community activism. Also to be housed there is the Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies. Set to open at I.S. 252, 1084 Lenox Road, is the Middle School for Art and Philosophy, for which students will be required to maintain portfolios of their artwork. By bringing the small schools initiative to middle schools, city officials hope to prevent students from falling off course before they reach high school. This is in response to city and state data showing that student achievement steadily declines from sixth to eighth grade. When announcing the new schools, Chancellor Joel Klein noted, “educating middle school students effectively remains a challenge.” But the department asserts that small schools have higher attendance rates than traditional schools and their students excel on standardized exams. Local parents had mixed reactions to the news that I.S. 232 and I.S. 252 will welcome small schools. “We can make them small, we can make them big, we can do all those things, we can pump money into them but unless we create a culture of learning, unless we demand discipline, it’s going to be more of the same,” asserted Eric St. Bernard, a former member of District 18’s Community Education Council (CEC). “I’m torn,” said Carmen Colon, president of the Association of New York City Education Councils, which represents all of the city’s CECs. “I understand the perception that a more close-knit community would provide a sense of being more personal and providing more individual attention.” However, she questioned how two or three schools, each with its own principal, can function in one building. Battles rage about “who’s in charge of the building? Who’s in charge of what? You pit one school against the other,” she said. The creation of small schools posed another concern for parents. They asserted that DOE officials should ask parents for input before selecting the themes of the small schools that will enter a local school building. In response to such criticism, Klein has said he will visit CEC meetings throughout the city to answer parents’ questions and discuss new school system reforms.

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