OUT STUDENTS IN SCHOOL DISTRICT #4 MUST HAVE MORE SPACE
At present, the East Harlem Coalition to Improve our Public Schools (EHCIPS) has three goals:
- provide more space in its Schools
- renovate the empty, landmark P.S. 109
- get more Certified Teachers in All Our schools.
WE MUST PROVIDE MORE SPACE IN OUR SCHOOLS
The EHCIPS is working hard to get more space in the majority of East Harlem's 23 school buildings whose students and teachers desperately need it. Shocked by the New York City Board of Education School Utilization Profile statistics which show that only about 90% of the total space in District #4 schools is being used, the EHCIPS set up its own committee, made up of experienced local East Harlem volunteers to visit every building and to see with their own eyes the real truth. The New York City Board of Education School Utilization Profile did not get its facts from personal visits to each school. If they had, they would have seen with their own eyes tragic examples of the need for more space.... thirty-two students in one classroom....a closet converted to a math lab....an occupational therapist seeing children in the hallway....a Reading Recovery class being held in a stairwell....an empty auditorium, unusable for years....to cite just a few.
This report documents the facts on the need for space gathered by the Coalition's sub-committee that has visited all the 22 school buildings in District #4.
In working to achieve these three immediate goals, the EHCIPS knows that it is fortunate in having many dedicated, competent staff members in School District #4's office. A significant number of them have East Harlem roots and a record of dedication to the education of our children. Cooperative effort between concerned bureaucrats, elected officials and grassroots leaders can and will get results.
The EHCIPS is also glad that its local school board has consistently voted to support its efforts. Some of its members have worked closely with it. The EHCIPS is working in cooperation with both the Coalition to Save P.S. 109, chaired by Gwen Goodwin, and with the Avenues to a Better Education, with its excellent forums for the community. It is chaired by Rev. Leroy Ricksy.
The NYC Board of Education, all of our elected officials, and all people responsible for our children's education must be made to listen and to act.
Frustrated and furious that for decades many East Harlem public school children are not being taught even to read, a group of old-time, dedicated local residents decided to take action. They started the East Harlem Coalition to Improve Our Public Schools (EHCIPS) in 1998. It was the task of the EHCIPS' sub-committee on Need for Space to address specific concerns of the District #4 schools. The EHCIPS' mission is to guarantee that all, not just some, of East Harlem's students get a good education. The EHCIPS is made up of local volunteers. It is self-supporting, raising its own funds locally with a few outside donations. It is non-sectarian, non-political and open to all who share its vision and commitment.
Community School District #4 is located in East Harlem, New York City. The boundaries range from the East River and 123rd Street West to Madison Avenue. The southern end of the district extends to 97th Street in Manhattan. The district is generally known as East Harlem and affectionately known as "El Barrio". The district serves students from grades Pre-K through 9. High schools are centralized and are under the jurisdiction of the Division of New York City High Schools. Community School District #4 is comprised of 23 school buildings. An empty school, P.S. 109, is in desperate need of restoration.
With these goals in mind, the EHCIPS developed a core group/steering committee. It is supported by parents, grandparents, community activists, interested community residents, community agencies, educators, School Board members, District Office staff and Community Planning Board members, to address the educational issues in our East Harlem community.
PURPOSE OF THE REPORT:
Historically, "Nothing is more important to our society than the education of our youth" (Peters and Austin, "A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference", N.Y., Random House, 1985, P. 411). The purpose of this study was to determine the pressing need for space within our schools, the pressing need for certified teachers and the pressing need to restore P.S. 109. At the time of this report, another school, P.S. 96, presently was under the jurisdiction of the Chancellor. Additionally, the principals interviewed expressed the strengths, dreams and concerns of their schools.
LIMITATIONS OF THE REPORT:
This report was limited with regard to its scope, purpose and methodology. In regard to scope, the report was concerned with 22 principals in 22 school buildings. Furthermore, the report was limited to elementary and junior high schools (middle schools) contained within Community School District #4 in East Harlem, New York. This study was limited in terms of purpose to one school district in one geographic area in New York City. This study was limited to the methodology used to obtain data for the report in terms of the questions posed by the members of the Sub-Committee of EHCIPS who visited the schools, and by their direct observations as well as the responses given by the principals involved in the report. In addition, there was an open-ended component which prompted the principals to elaborate on the concerns, issues, pressing need for space, pressing need for certified teachers, and outside groups which augment the 3ducatgionbal program.
THE AREAS EXAMINED CONSISTED OF THE FOLLOWING:
- Need for Space: a) for instructional purposes, b) for support staff
- Need for certified teachers
- Concerns of principals
- Health facilities available in the schools
- Parental involvement
- The physical plant building
- "Wish List" of school dreams
- Outside resources
A team of three consisting of members of the EHCIPS made appointments to visit the schools. This study was concerned with 39 programs contained within the 22 schools located in Community School District #4. This determination was made when the team visited the schools and the principal reported on the programs contained in the school. The team members inquired about the use of "space" in each of the schools visited. The principals openly and warmly received the team members and shared with them a variety of issues. In addition, the team members had an opportunity to tour the school building, make observations and talk with school personnel. Thus, the report was based upon an interview with the principals and by direct observation of the team members. In order to insure accuracy of our report, the team members re-visited the schools and asked the principals to review the findings.
The major questions this report sought to address included the following:
- Is there need for physical space?
- How many certified and uncertified teachers are on staff?
- What are your concerns as principals?
- What health facilities are available in the school?
- What is the level of parental involvement?
- What is the condition of the physical plant?
- How is technology/computers utilized in the school?
- What is your "wish list" or dreams for your school?
- What outside resource are available?
The responses to the questions asked of the principals and the direct observation of the team members yielded the following:
- In terms of space, principals noted that this was a major concern. Of the 22 schools studied, 18 or 82% reported space to be a problem in their schools. Four (4) or 18% reported no problem with space in their schools. Those responding noted need for space for instructional programs and/or space for support staff. (Attached: List of "Concerns" of Principals of Community School District #4).
- The need for certified teachers was an issue which concerned the principals interviewed. In Community School District #4, 19% of the teachers were not certified whereas 81% were certified.
- In terms of school concerns, 20 principals of the 22 schools reported having major concerns. This represents 91% having concerns and 2 or 9% having no concerns (Attached: "Concerns of Principals of Community School District #4 Schools)."
- With regard to health services including the services of a nurse, doctor, dentist or physician's assistant, out of 22 principals interviewed in this report, 3 or 14% reported that no medical services were available in their schools whereas, 19 or 86% reported having the medical services of the Department of Health, Mt. Sinai, or Borinquen Clinic.
- With regard to parental involvement, 9 principals or 41% did not mention parental involvement, whereas 13 principals or 59% commented on parental involvement in their schools. Two (2) principals or 15% reported "excellent" parental involvement. Nine (9) principals or 69% noted parental involvement as being "good", "fair", or "getting better". One (1) principal or 8% reported that parents come to celebrations and/or workshops. One (1) principal or 8% reported that parental involvement was "not good".
- In terms of the physical plant the team observed the physical conditions of 16 or 73% of the schools visited. Six or 27% we3re not noted by the team. Of the 16 schools noted, 13 or 81% were clean and neat. Two (2) or 13% were not clean or neat with foul odors emanating from hallways and cafeterias. One (1) school or 6% had a cracked wall.
- Regarding computers/technology, 18 principals or 82% reported that computers were available in their schools whereas, 4 or 18% reported that computers were needed, no in working order, or very few computers were available in their schools.
- Principals were invited to present a "wish list" of their dreams should they be provided with adequate funds to provided all services need in their schools. Of the 22 principals 8 or 36% did not provide a "wish list" whereas, 14 or 64% did provide a list. Of the 14, 3 or 21% would request computers/internet access and technology assistance. Five (5) OR 36% reported the need for a state of the art library. Three (3) or 21% of the principals would like a science lab classroom equipped with appropriate science supplies/materials. Four (4) or 28% of the schools are in need of furniture. Three or 21% are in need of renovating the auditorium. Two (2) or 14% would request reconstructing the school yard/playground. (Attached: "Wish List" generated by the principals).
- With regard to outside resources the breakdown was as follows: twenty (20) of the twenty-two principals, or 91% reported associations with outside groups. Eleven of the principals (11) OR 53% were associated with outside groups. Of those eleven schools, (11) or 53% were associated with outside groups. Of those eleven schools, the 11, or 53% of the whole were associated with corporations. Thirteen (13) schools or 65% were connected with community agencies. Four (4) schools or 20% receive health services from Mt. Sinai, DOH, ICD Health Organization and Borinquen Clinic. Nine (9) or 45% were associated with the services of museums. Four (4) or 40% have affiliations with universities. Three (3) or 15% receive services from theaters in the Metropolitan area. (Attached: List of Outside Resources).
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus (Avery, Handbook in the History of Philosophy: A Chronological Survey of Western Thought, 350 BC to the Present, N.Y., Barnes and Noble, 1961) maintained that nothing remained constant, everything is in perpetual flux! This is true of schools. The needs of the schools of the 21st century have changed since the last century and as educators and concerned citizens it is our task to address the changes that need to take place in order to appropriately serve the educational needs of the children of East Harlem.
The analysis of the data revealed the following issues that require immediate attention in our East Harlem schools.
- Many school buildings need to be redesigned, erected, and the empty P.S. 109 needs to be restored in order to provide space for the educational needs of our East Harlem students. The New York City Board of Education "School Utilization Report" needs to be re-examined to accurately report on school space in a realistic manner. The EHCIPS team members directly observed the need for space in the schools visited. Perhaps, the removal of the Community School District offices now lodged in various school buildings would provide much needed space for students. An editorial published in the New York Times (May 10, 2001) underscored the two worst problems the next mayor must confront: "acute shortage in both space and certified teachers, which in turn create overcrowded classrooms". (See Attachment A.)
- It is imperative to pay attention to recruiting, fostering and assisting in the preparation of certified teachers. The results of New York State's fourth-grade reading text released in May 2001 and reported by the New York Times (May 20, 2001) indicated that one-third of our East Harlem fourth grade students met the standards for the grade and two-thirds of the students did not attain reading scores appropriate to their grade. Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, Chancellor Levy and teachers' representatives met to examine what they see is the crux of the system's problems: "the chronic teachers shortage". (New York Times, Edward Wyatt, May 15, 2001) (See Attachment B.)
- The concerns of the principals must be heeded. Over 90% of the principals reported basic concerns relative to their schools dealing with space and the need for certified teachers. It is untenable that in the richest country in the world basic supplies are not in place such as books, bookcases, science labs, music rooms, libraries, and an auditorium to foster the learning process. Additionally, certified teachers, program personnel, staff developers, and support staff to serve the educational, speech and psychological needs of the students need to be available to every student in our East Harlem schools. The facilities are in evidence in schools mere miles from our community! Our children are being short-changed!
- Nearly two-thirds of the principals prepared a "wish list" for their schools. These lists submitted by principals were within the parameters of what constituted good schooling. Such items as computers and the internet available in every room are part of the technological needs of the 21st century. And, our children are citizens of the future. To provide sports programs, science labs, school aides, staff developers, updated playgrounds are essential to optimum learning. This is a call for what is needed for good schooling: students need basic supplies such as desks and chairs. Libraries and books and class libraries should be within the grasp of educational planners.
- Health services are crucial to the well-being of our students. New York's asthma rate is the highest in the nation. Asthma is presently at crisis levels in East Harlem. Medical intervention is needed to address this critical health issue so that our stude3nts are at optimum health levels to profit from their schooling. It is a disgrace that three of the principals reported that medical facilities were not available in their schools. Nine (9) or 41% of the medical services available were provided by the Department of Health, Mt. Sinai Hospital and Borinquen Clinic. At the time of this report, Somini Singupta writing in the New York Times ("Health Agency Seeks to Close 27 Clinics", May 15, 2001) writes, "facing huge deficits, New York City hospital officials have sought the state's permission to shut down more than two dozen school-based and neighborhood health clinics where poor children get basic medical care...." (See Attachment C).
- With regard to parental involvement no mention of an active parents' association was made by nearly half of the principals reporting to this question. Yet, fifty percent of the principals did report parental involvement ranging from "excellent to not good". Active participation helps to cement a positive home/school relationship. Efforts must be increased in order to bring parents into the mainstream of the school in meaningful ways. Lynette Hollaway writing in The New York Times (Survey Gives Parents an Opportunity to Grade their Schools, May 2, 2001) reported that Chancellor Howard Levy has made parent outreach one of its main concerns. She continues her report noting that the central board recently approved two contracts that will help him reach more parents faster: $7 million contract for a telephone and mailing system that can deliver 100,000 voice mail messages and letters to parents in five hours and a $4.6 million contract for a translation service to increase communication between the system and parents who do not speak English. (See Attachment D)
- An analysis of the data indicated that over three-fourths of the principals reported the presence of computers in their schools in terms of computer labs and/or laptops. Nearly one-fifth of the principals reported that technological assistance was needed in the schools to maintain the computer and/or to make computers available to the entire student population. The children of the 21st century are children of the computer age. State of the art technology needs to be present in all schools so that our students can process information according to the dictates of our society. Computer literate and expertise will continue to dominate the work place. We have an obligation to prepare our students to take their rightful place as computer literate members of their communities.
- Our human dignity includes the right to live and work in a clean and safe environment. The EHCIPS team observed that in nearly three-fourths of the schools visited that one fourth did not meet sanitary conditions. They reported foul smells in the cafeterias and hallways as well as a cracked wall in one school. Another school has classrooms situated over two boilers and they were extremely over-heated. Principals were concerned about the need for air conditioning as the early and later summer months of school can be very warm and can interfere with the learning process.
- It is a credit to the district staff and to the administrative staff of the schools that almost one hundred percent of the schools have linkages with outside agencies. These include involvement in a wide range of corporations, universities, museums, hospitals, theaters and local community groups, such as the 92nd Street Y, the Virtual Y, and others. The associations offer contacts which enrich the lives of our school children.