In the battle to save local schools, the obvious question is “Will anyone listen?”
Will the rallies matter? Are there enough people that care? Will surviving for one more year make a difference?
I asked Councilman Lew Fidler at Sheepshead Bay High School’s rally last week if the school had a chance, if protests like these matter in the eyes of the mayor and Education Department.
“It mattered at Marine Park Junior High School,” he said.
Fidler was referring to a battle last year to keep a charter school from opening inside unused space in I.S. 278. What seemed like more than a thousand turned out for that fight, making the public hearing a standing room only event.
But at Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School, both of which the city will decide by the end of the year on whether to close, the troubled schools don’t have that kind of support. Hundreds turned out to Sheepshead’s rally, and the New York Times estimated around 200 protesters at Dewey’s third “Fight Back Friday” event last week.
Separately, these numbers are not good enough.
You can blame the number on any number of things, the most notable of which is that the protests have so far been during work hours, while Marine Park J.H.S. supporters attended an evening public hearing.
Regardless, as Fidler’s statement suggests, numbers are what gets the job done. It’s what wins the fight.
But it’s not numbers alone. The two schools need to band together, and not just to bolster their numbers, but because one cannot survive if the other closes.
As schools shutter, good students are placed in stronger schools, while those with poor performance records end up in other troubled schools. The result is that the average grades at those schools further decline, making it more likely to end up on the chopping block in the next round of cuts.
It’s what happened to Sheepshead Bay High School when Tilden High School closed. And it’s why both Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School need to coordinate their opposition with each other as the city looks to close them.
Both of these schools are promising a turnaround if allowed time and resources. But if one school is successful in fighting closure and the other is not, a turnaround is impossible; the survivor won’t be long for this world. That’s because the city’s counterintuitive attempts to fix schools by closing them will concentrate more and more troubled students in average schools, watering down the effect of kids who are performing well. It’s a doomed plan.
Considering the turnout at Sheepshead Bay High School’s rally last week, if it combines with those from Dewey (which did send a small contingent to support them), both schools have a chance.
With those numbers they can pack the auditoriums during public hearings. With those numbers they can fill school yards for pep rallies. With those numbers, reporters will pay attention.
But whatever they do, their only chance at long-term survival is to do it together.