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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Keep out the dirty poor kids

The Lower East Side

Parents of the Gifted Resist a Call to Share a School Building

There they were, parents and students from the New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math school, banging drums and shaking maracas in front of Cipriani Wall Street to disrupt the black-tie benefit where Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein was speaking.

There they were again, hundreds representing NEST, as the school is known, passionately chanting "Save the NEST" in front of City Hall. And there they were, hoisting "Don't Tread on Our School" signs on a wooded patch of East Hampton near the Ross School, a private school founded by Courtney Sale Ross, the wealthy widow of a former Time Warner chairman.

In the two months since parents at NEST learned of the city's plans to place the Ross Global Academy, a new charter school also founded by Ms. Ross, in their building on the Lower East Side, they have filed a lawsuit, hired a publicist and printed buttons and postcards. The city has not budged.

Now the battle over NEST, which has about 730 students, has become a tale about the intersection of class, race, parents, politicians and philanthropists in the New York City public schools. It pits the mostly middle-class parents who have nurtured NEST, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school for gifted and talented children, against Ms. Ross, a multimillionaire with homes in the Hamptons and on the Upper East Side whose supporters say she is creating a school to help the poor.

"They're trying to destroy our school," cried Arianna Gil, 12, a NEST seventh grader, at the Cipriani rally, as she handed out gift bags embossed in silver lettering with the NEST logo and filled with publicity materials. She warned of "complete chaos" if the Ross charter school moves in.

NEST parents and staff say that there is no room in their building for the Ross school, and that its arrival would force them to increase class size and cut some foreign-language classes and cherished programs like single-sex classes for math and science. But the city's Department of Education says that there is room for nearly twice as many students as currently attend, that the sharing arrangement would last only two years and that many parents have lost sight of the fact that NEST is a public school.

As the city has created dozens of new schools, many have been forced to cohabitate, despite opposition. Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott said he respected the NEST parents' "voicing their issues" but added, "We're going to have to agree to disagree."

Within the school system, NEST is an enclave. One recent morning, the walls were lined with photography projects and student-produced restaurant menus — in French. Kindergartners played in the courtyard, while inside, a high school English teacher in a blazer gave an impassioned lesson on how to write a formal essay. The PTA office buzzed with activity.

According to city statistics, 52.6 percent of NEST students in the 2004-5 school year were white, compared with 15.1 percent in public school citywide. At NEST, 18.9 percent of students qualified for free lunch, compared with 57.4 percent citywide. The school admits students based on factors including test scores, interviews, classwork and observed play sessions.


As part of an assignment, students wrote letters to this reporter, warning of dirty hallways, overcrowded classes and a Ross takeover of the NEST cafeteria, with its round tables and purple neon sign.

"I don't understand why she has to ruin one of the best schools in New York City," Alyse Hunt wrote of Ms. Ross, whose husband, Steven J. Ross, was the architect of the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications. "This whole situation right now is already disturbing our education by having to go to rallies and making posters while we are supposed to be learning."

Both sides in the struggle cry elitism. Even before NEST opened, some politicians and community activists complained that it screened out poor, black and Hispanic students and was not serving the neighborhood; only a third of NEST's students live in the local school district.

"The NEST school wants to operate as a private exclusive school, and it is not willing to accept what is a reasonable ask of them as part of existing on taxpayer resources," said Garth Harries, chief executive of the department's Office of New Schools. "I think it's about a school community that has a disproportionate share of public resources fighting to maintain control and exclusive access."

The fact that a second school has to be created means that black and latino kids, the vast majority of the school population in the city, have been excluded.

The city is unlikely to budge either, especially after evicting the Harlem Boy's Choir from their school.

I'd call this Hunter envy as well. Hunter College Campus Schools has about 1200 kids in the high school and maybe half that in the elementary school, I'm an alum of both. Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech only have a few thousand spaces as well, so middle class parents who want their kids in public school have very few choices. They are going to fight to protect their school.

But the implication that the black and latino kids would dirty up their school and their methods of excluding them are racist, deeply, unforgivably racist. Hunter took a ton of shit, and the school almost closed in the 1970's behind some of the same issues. Before 1973, the high school was single sex female.

What the idea was that both sexes would go to the elementary school, but the boys would go to Tonwsend Harris Hall, run by City College and girls to Hunter High. But then, Townsend closed(to reopen in the late '90's) and parents wanted their boys to enter Hunter High. I know this because I was in the third mixed high school class. The school also had to admit more minorities as well. My cousin is also a Hunter alum.

My problem is that the school,located in the middle of the city's first housing project, Baruch Houses, a majority Latino population, should be 51 percent white means something is very wrong here. There has to be an issue of access for gifted Latinos from the neighborhood. Because they are often denied services in local schools, providing a booming business for the local archidiocese.

While they want Hunter's appeal, they have a very different approach to education.

"It is very easy to be dazzled by the gleaming floors, the big classrooms and sunlight streaming into NEST. These first images are misleading," writes a parent. "NEST sets high standards and expects a lot out of their students. However, how NEST goes about achieving and maintaining these standards and expectations is a whole other matter. The PTA president states that NEST does everything to help a child before asking them to leave. Also, most of the middle school students chose to go to high school somewhere else. If an elementary student requires extra help, NEST tells the parents they are not a therapeutic school and should leave instead of using the resources available through the DOE. Children do not come first at NEST despite what the administration and PTA claim. If a parent chooses to send their child to NEST, they should be prepared not to question the administration. According to NEST all children learn at the same rate. There is no room for children who do not conform to that theory or parents who think otherwise and speak up for their children." (September 2005)

In repsonse to the above comment, Principal Celenia Chevere writes: "First and foremost is to remember that NEST is a gifted and talented school with a rigorous admissions policy. Occasionally a student is admitted that turns out to not be a good fit for NEST. When that happens, the school support team works hard with the students' family to find a more appropriate school. I can't help but think that the writer misunderstands the very clear and basic mission and vision of NEST." The principal adds: "

Hunter used to make elementary school students take a test for admission to the high school, but stopped that in the mid-70's.

I was a miserable math student, but when one teacher, not the principal, made that suggestion about another school, she was ignored and that was that. Kicking kids out is wrong. And it's done so the school looks better, which is why kids are taken from outside the district and their skin happens to be white.

The comments here about the school seem to be mixed, but the lack of academic and social freedom seem to be the opposite of my education. Once you were at Hunter, you could excell and the teachers trusted you to do so. They didn't mock you in class or care what you wore. Also,tests were deemphasized when I was in school. It was assumed you'd do well on standardized tests and most schools moved your average up five points, I know NYU did. Even today, I don't remember many mixed comments about the education or our personal loyalty to the school.

Even with time passing, this sounds like an alien experience from Hunter's core principles of educational exploration and cooperation.

I would love to see the racial composition of those "invited" to leave. Because this reeks of a cult of personality and the kind of exclusionary decision making which should not be allowed in public schools.

The parents want to sue? Fine. The city should ask why the school takes so many out of district kids who just happen to be white while the local Latino gifted and talented kids have to fight for

A look at the population of the Census Tract for the school's address and zip code 10002, Hispanics outnumber whites by 47 to 1. That's right , 47 to 1 and the school is 51 percent white.
While the Times article brushed off the disparity and complaints by the locals, I think anyone faced with a school which only had one third local residents and 51 percent whites where whites
are a statistical anomaly, might have reason to be concerned.

People keep talking about charter schools as if they can solve all problems by being cut loose from the Education Department. The fact that this school is so ethnically unbalanced and is filled with out of district kids should be a serious issue and one Klein should look at deeply.

The NEST parents have played a media looking for a simple story. Digging might and should complicate it.

posted by Steve @ 12:50:00 AM

12:50:00 AM

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