Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network, subject of our cover story this week, won several major victories at last night’s meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy. The PEP voted to allow Harlem Success Academy 1 to expand in its current home alongside P.S. 149 (Sojourner Turth) next year, to allow it to move into a building with Wadleigh school next year, and to allow the brand new Upper West Success Academy to open on the Brandeis campus next fall.
More than 2,000 people braved Fort Greene’s icy sidewalks to fill Brooklyn Technical High School’s auditorium. They came to weigh in on the expansion of Success Network schools and the proposed closure of 25 poorly performing schools.
The vast majority of people were wearing blue or orange Success Academy T-shirts. Moskowitz organized families to come out in support, going so far as to hand out scripts and train speakers how to address the panel in advance. The UFT also organized teachers and parents in attendance.
Often, the two sides seemed confused whether they should be cheering or booing, electing just to make as much noise as possible.
Some public commenters were as young as five years old. With kindergartners shouting “Money for charter schools!” and teenagers begging the panel not to close their high schools, the saddest thing about the evening, one student observed, was watching students pitted against other students.
As they often do at these meetings, a group called the “Real Reformers” gave a response in song.
Given that the mayor controls eight of the 13 votes on the PEP, the outcome of the meeting was a foregone conclusion. And yet, if you were in the hall and thought the PEP was supposed to actually consider public comment, you wouldn’t think the vote was pre-determined. On the issue of Upper West Success Academy, nearly every elected official and body (U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Community Education Council 3, and Community Board 7) voiced their opposition. There was widespread concern about putting an elementary charter school into a building that houses four high schools, especially as those high schools use metal detectors. (K-5 public school students aren’t allowed to be screened and will need separate entrances to bypass the scanners.)
The issue of school closures also didn’t seem like it should be so cut and dried, given that a report obtained by the New York Post showed that the DOE has known of problematic schools and has intentionally set up to fail. (When the Post questions school closures, normally adamant supporters stop and take pause.)
No one threw condoms at Chancellor Cathie Black this time, and she did a pretty good job of inheriting Joel Klein’s poker face as people screamed at her for hours on end. But in one of the few times when she said anything (the Chancellor presides over the PEP meetings but does not vote or usually even speak), around 12:45 AM, she lost her temper as she tried to talk over hecklers.
“I cannot speak if you are shouting!” she said, like a school teacher who has lost control of her class. When people booed her even louder, she sarcastically replied “Awwww,” as if she was really sad about hurting their feelings.
The PEP started voting shortly after 1:00 AM, which was mercifully early considering 354 people had signed up to speak for up to two minutes each. They voted to close all of the schools on the agenda and to expand the Success Network schools on every vote. Mayor Bloomberg’s appointees generally voted yes for everything, and Manhattan Borough President appointee Patrick Sullivan voted no or abstained on every vote. Only Monica Major, appointee of the Bronx Borough President, varied her votes substantially between yays and nays.
Right before the voting concluded, one spectator yelled “Fuck this show!” before walking out.
Moskowitz, who had declined to give testimony herself, was still in the house. Though giving an interview at the time, she was clearly within earshot when a woman screamed, “You suck, Eva!” To really show victory, the woman held one of the orange Success Academy T-shirts over her head, declaring that she loathed Moskowtiz, but that she’d gladly taken her T-shirt as revenge.
The PEP only voted on about half of the school closures this morning. The rest will be debated upon Thursday evening at 6:00 PM, when they will pretend to listen to people again and presumably still vote to shut down their schools a few hours later.