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Lower East Side School Not Ready For Students

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  • Leonie Haimson
    PS 137 was kicked out of their original building by DOE, after officials decided to move the growing Shuang Wen school into the building. DOE unilaterally
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2006
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      PS 137 was kicked out of their original building by DOE, after officials decided to move the growing Shuang Wen school into the building.  DOE unilaterally decided to move the school into PS 134, which led to protests, etc. to no avail. 


      At the time, DOE promised improvements to both schools; “[Dept. regional Superintendent Guzman] said that both buildings -- P.S. 134 and 137 -- would receive millions of dollars in improvements because of the changes, and that the moves are "the responsible thing to do" for the students who will benefit from better facilities. “


      Now, according to NY1, these improvements are still not made and the building still lacks full power.  See story in Today's NY1 and last year’s article from NY Times.



      Lower East Side School Not Ready For Students

      September 02, 2006

      NY 1


      Local lawmakers and parents say one Lower East Side school is far from ready for students heading to classes Tuesday for the start of the school year.


      They were at P.S. 134 yesterday, outraged by what they say is the school's state of disrepair and lack of full electrical power.


      Parents say they knew there was no way construction at the school, which recently incorporated P.S. 137, would be completed over the summer break.


      Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is even comparing the school to the former Deutsche Bank building, which has been closed since the World Trade Center attacks.


      "It has the same black shrouding and it signifies the same thing: Don 't go near the building," said Silver.


      "I'm pretty sure they're not going to going to do this overnight,” said parent Luz Aviles. “I mean it looks like a wrecking crew went in there, you know?"


      Schools Chancellor Joel Klein says he's confident the school will open on time. Some skeptical parents say they're not taking their children to the site on the first day of school unless it's ready.

      November 4, 2005


      Elementary School Parents Feel Squeezed and Ignored

      By Susan Saulny (NYT)                Correction Appended


      Marisol Rosas and Luz Castillo were elated this fall when they saw desks and chairs and other classroom accessories being moved into Public School 137 on the Lower East Side , where their children are enrolled. They had been agitating for years for more supplies and attention, and it appeared that someone had answered the call.


      The celebration did not last long, however. Word spread among the elementary-school parents that the new things were not for them, but for a few classes from the nearby Shuang Wen Academy , a top-performing small school that needed more space for its dual-language classes in English and Mandarin Chinese.


      Over the next days, things got worse. P.S. 137 parents were shocked to learn that they would have to leave their building on Cherry Street by the beginning of the next school year.


      The Department of Education had decided to assign not only a few rooms, but the entire building facility to Shuang Wen. According to the plan, P.S. 137 would move in with P.S. 134, an elementary school a few blocks away.


      Many P.S. 137 parents, who are mostly blacks and Latinos from the nearby public housing developments, said they knew nothing about the decision until after it was made. At that point, they reacted furiously, and now their anger has erupted into a full-fledged campaign to ''save 137'' from what they consider a hostile takeover.


      They have found understanding in an unlikely place: Shuang Wen itself. Despite their school's critical need for space, some Shuang Wen parents think that the students of P.S. 137 deserved better than being kicked out of their own school with little notice.


      "I'm on their side," said Tina Hsu, the vice president of the Shuang Wen parent-teacher association. "I think the Department of Education didn't communicate with them well."


      Another Shuang Wen parent, Bridgitte Fouché, said of the P.S. 137 parents' anger: "I don't blame them. I'd be upset, too."


      Department of Education officials dispute the P.S. 137 parents' contention that they were denied information and a chance to comment, citing public meetings in June, July and August where a proposed plan for moving Shuang Wen was discussed. The plan was presented as a decision at a community education meeting in September, the officials said.


      "I certainly feel their pain and their concern," said Mariano Guzman, the deputy regional superintendent for the area, adding that he and other officials continue to seek parents' views by visiting the schools and holding meetings.


      City Councilman Alan J. Gerson, who represents the Lower East Side , said the Department of Education did bring the matter up at public meetings but did not do enough to reach P.S. 137 families, since many were away for the summer and the school does not have a functioning parent-teacher association or a parent coordinator.


      About two weeks ago, Mr. Gerson called for a 30-day "cooling-off period" because relations between the parents and school's district officials had become so heated. Since then, parents from P.S. 137 have worked to organize themselves into a force, holding rallies, a protest and a petition drive.


      The fallout from the decision to move Shuang Wen has highlighted once again the difficulties that arise when schools are made to share space or are moved without involving the people who feel ownership over them -- the parents and the neighborhood. The problem is not likely to disappear in a city suffering a shortage of space for schools, particularly small school start-ups, one of the Bloomberg administration's most popular tools for re-engineering the system.


      "This was presented as a fait accompli," said Lisa Don lan, a member of the District 1 Community Education Council, a board of elected parent volunteers. "I started thinking, 'What about the families? What about the students?' I thought, 'This doesn't make sense.'


      "We should figure out how to do this so that some parents don't feel disenfranchised, angry and upset. It says a lot about the state of where we are in the city, the role of parents and the reality of small school and combining schools."


      Since its founding in 1998, Shuang Wen, a model small school that has developed a reputation for excellence, has yet to find the perfect fit. It was initially welcomed at P.S. 134 on the eastern edge of Chinatown , but after two years of sharing space, teachers and students began to complain about Shuang Wen's largely Asian population keeping to itself too much. Since then, many problems have been worked out, but a new one has arisen: Shuang Wen's growth beyond what P.S. 134 could accommodate.


      By September, the Department of Education had split the school between P.S. 134 and P.S. 137 to give it more space. Shuang Wen thought that the move was temporary and that eventually it would get new or converted space.


      Instead, the school got word that next year it would be taking over P.S. 137's entire building, a facility the parents said it did not particularly want. The decision left some parents crestfallen because they had already spent hours meeting with experts to plan the perfect space for Shuang Wen.

      "They've been mistreated far worse," said a Shuang Wen parent, Richard Shulberg, referring to P.S. 137, "but we've been slighted, too."


      Some Shuang Wen parents feel that they have been put into the undesirable position of being the public face of the department's decision. In that role, they and their children bear the brunt of the animosity coming from P.S. 137 as the move date approaches.


      Ms. Fouché said: "We understand that it's going to be a difficult process for us because the parents at 137 are angry. And you can't blame them. It's another slap in the face."


      "We don't mind sharing," said Ms. Rosas, whose two children attend P.S. 137. "We don't like being evicted and told we have no rights but to do it. All these changes happened in secret, and I feel violated and disrespected."

      Ms. Don lan, the parent representative, said: "We should have been able to come around a table and say, 'How can we make this a win-win situation for everybody?' But there was no table."


      Mr. Guzman, the education official, said it made sense to use P.S. 137's building for Shuang Wen because it was close and 43 percent unused. He said that both buildings -- P.S. 134 and 137 -- would receive millions of dollars in improvements because of the changes, and that the moves are "the responsible thing to do" for the students who will benefit from better facilities.


      Shuang Wen's principal, Ling Ling Chou, is optimistic: "I hope time will solve the problem; I don't know. It's a really tough situation, but we're trying our best."


      Ms. Ling Ling said the PTA at Shuang Wen was skilled at writing grant applications, and "in the future, anything we get we will try to share with 137."


      Photos: Pupils at Shuang Wen wash their hands where the word sink is marked in two languages. The academy uses space in two schools.; Grace Lin teaching second grade at Shuang Wen Academy , which needed more space for its classes taught in English and Mandarin Chinese. (Photographs by Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times)


      Correction: November 8, 2005, Tuesday A picture caption on Friday about a protest over New York City's plan to move the Shuang Wen Academy, a top-performing small school, into the Lower East Side building now occupied by Public School 137 misidentified a teacher and her class. She is Michelle Leung, not Grace Lin, and the pupils are kindergartners, not second graders.



      Leonie Haimson

      Class Size Matters

      124 Waverly Pl.

      New York , NY 10011





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