When a school is failing as badly as East High, the surrounding community seems to go through many of the same emotional transitions as a person dealing with a life-threatening illness. There’s the initial shock, followed by denial and anger.
Many of those raw emotions were evident at a meeting at East last night, where about 100 students, parents, staff, and residents reacted to the State Education Department’s command to fix the school. (Reporters were initially blocked from attending the meeting, but after much wrangling, the district relented.)
Some students and parents said they're shocked by the news, and many students vigorously defended their teachers.They said their success in school is a direct result of their teachers’ hard work and caring.
East’s librarian said she's angry because she doesn’t have the resources to help the school's nearly 1,800 students. How can Superintendent Bolgen Vargas tell parents to get library cards for their children when the district’s libraries are minimally staffed? she said.
“If we’re trying to support reading and writing, why are we taking away [positions]?” she said. “We’re in a crisis mode.”
And many of the parents and students at the meeting said they're angry at the parents who don't engage with East. Many don’t attend open houses, sports, or other activities, they said, and this has multiple results. Students are often not praised or supported for their accomplishments, they said, and they often view the lack of interest as permission to not attend or care about doing well in school.
Several parents described coming to school events and seeing only a handful of other parents in attendance.
“There’s only so much staff can do without parental support,” said Frances Drumgoole, a home school assistant. “I think sometimes parents have given up on the district, unfortunately.”
And some students pointedly told Vargas that moving students to different schools, or closing failing schools and opening new ones hasn’t worked in the past. The same students and the same teachers are just moved to different buildings, they said. And some said they feel duped. Why enroll in a city school, even though it has appealing programs, they said, if it’s in danger of closing?
Though some people called for more volunteer help, finding solutions to East’s problems will be difficult. The SED has given district officials until the end of April to come up with a plan for East. The options are: turn it over to SUNY, close the school and open another one, convert East to a charter, or partner with some other entity to run the school.
East’s future really depends on how much longer the community is willing to watch the school's health decline. Real improvements start when the community says enough is enough.