[ProgressiveEd] Today's rally

Carol Barton [email protected]
Wed, 26 Mar 2003 23:01:06 -0500

Congratulations to all to came to the lively, successful rally at Tweed
today.  A special thanks to River East, who came in big numbers, with
parents, kids, and colorful signs.  We had some 40 people there.  We took to
the stairs, were asked by security to move to the sidewalk, were reinvited
to the stairs....  They immediately came out and invited parents and kids in
to meet with Michelle Cahill.  DOE is very eager to appear very receptive to
parents!  After getting a crowd of 15 or so through metal detectors, we were
escorted to the board room for a 15-20 min. meeting with Ms. Cahill and her
chief of staff, plus an administrator from District 1.
We had a good representation of schools at the table:  I counted River East,
Crossroads, Computer, Muscota, East Village, Earth School and Central Park
East 1 (sorry if I missed someone).  We had about 8 children.  Everyone had
the opportunity to introduce themselves.  The kids were lucid and
What we said:
--we want to keep our schools the way they are; curriculum emerges from
teachers and students in the classroom
--we want waivers
--we want school status for schools within schools
--we want to be part of a network of like-minded schools
--our kids learn to love learning
--we want autonomy that allows us to continue with small class sizes, bridge
classes, parental and child involvement in all aspects of the school.  This
can't be boiled down to a single curriculum.
--our alternative schools are dynamic and special
--testimonies by kids and parents about the impact the schools have had on
their lives
--Students presented DOE with a box of materials about our schools
Ms. Cahill said she knows the PENNY network, and knows we have an
appointment with the Chancellor.  She said she has started small schools
including "el puente", she's familiar with many of our schools, she knows
that many have requested waivers.  "I appreciate what your schools are
about."  However, citywide only 7/10 kids can read at grade level by 8th
grade.  The 200 schools are those, in their estimation, that are getting
results.  She said that DOE would not grant blanket waivers to a whole
network of schools.  They will consider them one by one, as some are not up
to par.  Overall, she said that many of our schools don't have strong
curriculum in math and literacy.  That this is not about closing our schools
or changing our cultures or threatening small schools, "but we still want to
work with you on math and literacy."  "We want to move everybody to higher
Some parents referred to "alternative schools" and she said they had held
several meetings with "alternative" schools.  It took a few minutes to
clarify that we spoke of the PENNY schools, and she referred to the formal
district of alternative schools.  A reminder that words mean different
things to different people.  Some parents feared their schools would be
closed, lumped with other schools, or forced to grow.  Ms. Cahill assured
them that this was not part of the plan.
She did not address our concerns about tests as a primary measure of
success, or our request for creating networks of like-minded schools.  The
District 1 administrator (I didn't get her name) said they had 5 progressive
schools and they are "looking at a small learning community for our schools.
We want to preserve that."  I'm unclear what this meant.
When asked about gaining school status, Ms. Cahill said that Academies that
want to become schools can go to the new office of school development--
there is a process for that.  She said she had just become aware that some
schools had trouble filing for waivers, because they are not official
schools.  The waiver process is under Diana Lamm.  There is criteria ("I
can't speak to that now") and we'll be hearing from them.
1.  It was worth doing, and successful.  Important that we were able to have
a parent/kid conversation with Ms. Cahill before the PENNY meeting.  It was
open, calm, not confrontational, and drove home how concerned parents are
about preserving PENNY schools.  It was more about testimony, less about
getting commitments. That will be the task of those who meet with Klein and
Cahill on April 10.
2.  In the future, any rally organized by PENNY needs to be organized.  That
is, we need a permit, a designated spokesperson, and some coordination.
Some schools did not participate, and some sent only one representative, in
part, because they were wary of the lack of organization and clarity.  While
this action worked, we should not be doing things in an ad hoc way. (We had
some copies of Bruce's letter, but not enough to hand out to passers-by).
3.  This gets to another point-- given the urgency, we're trying to act when
there still isn't a cohesive network, and there isn't really consensus on
strategies.  Many schools have decided to put their energies into an insider
track (waivers, DOE contacts, etc.) and are wary of outsider tracks, like
this demonstration.  These two tracks are not mutually exclusive, but it's
clear from this action that many were ambivalent about the idea.  We are
still a coalition more in name than reality, where we share ideas and
strategies, but pursue independent efforts on many fronts.  That's fine and
necessary, but we are unlikely to build a stronger presence and base as
PENNY if there isn't more coordination and agreement on common efforts, and
clear, decisive leadership.
Thanks to those who put great energy into pulling out the troops, and to all
who came.
Carol Barton
Muscota New School, Computer School parent