During one week in October, District 17’s superintendent held “early engagement conversations” at three schools the department is considering closing.
At each school — M.S. 587 on Oct. 11, P.S. 22 on Oct. 12, and P.S. 161 on Oct. 13 — the superintendent, Rhonda Hurdle Taylor, heard community members explain why their schools should get another chance.
Then she resigned, and Buffie Simmons took her place.
DOE officials said the personnel change would have little impact on school closure decisions because Hurdle Taylor, like all superintendents, was required to document thoroughly what happened in the engagement meetings.
But parents in District 17 are wondering whether Simmons, who is new to the district, understands the local issues, according to a parent leader, Barbara Simmons (no relation). In contrast, Barbara Simmons said, Hurdle Taylor had worked in the district for many years, including as principal of P.S. 390, now closed, when Simmons’s son was a student there.
The leadership change is just one of several reasons that the three schools are protesting their potential closure today in the latest in a series of rallies organized with the support of advocacy groups that oppose school closures. The city has not yet announced any closures but has named 20 elementary and middle schools that are eligible.
City Councilwoman Letitia James will join the parents at a press conference today outside P.S. 161, where parents plan to argue that the schools are struggling because of budget cuts and high numbers of needy students.
Tiffany Jones, an organizer with New York Communities for Change who helped plan tonight’s event, said each school has a different agenda. At P.S. 161, parents want the new principal, Michael Johnson, to have at least two years to restore the school to its former performance. Parents at M.S. 587, the Middle School for the Arts, say they want an adequate art program so the school can live up to its name. And at P.S. 22, parents are emphatic that the school would suffer if another school moves into the building.
Barbara Simmons, a trained parent leader, also said she encouraged parents at P.S. 22 to join in. They were initially “a little guarded” but ultimately signed on to the protest, Jones said.
“The parents want to take this opportunity … to tell publicly what they want for their school and what they don’t want,” Jones said. “The fact that they are doing it in a unified way says a lot.”