When city officials submitted a proposal to the State Education Department this week about whether to close, merge or cede control of a Bronx middle school, one constituency was kept out of the loop: the school itself.
“Everything is up in the air,” said Yolanda Montalvo, who sits on the school leadership team at J.H.S 162 Lola Rodriguez de Tio, and is a member of the PTA. The school’s administration “doesn’t know what the last decision will be.”
J.H.S. 162 has drawn outsized attention for being the only school in New York threatened with a takeover under the state’s receivership program, which is supposed to create consequences for low-performing schools if they don’t show improvements within a year or two.
The school is the first in the state to face the prospect of a takeover under the 2015 receivership law.
State officials have said the city could propose a merger or closure in lieu of a takeover by an outside manager — and on Tuesday, the city sent a letter to the state with a proposal.
So far, that letter has been kept secret; city and state officials would not release it to Chalkbeat.
On Wednesday afternoon, some parents said they participated in meetings at the beginning of the school year focused on the consequences the school might face under the state receivership program. But they noted there had not been an effort to gather input from them to specifically inform the city’s proposal, and there were rumors the school could be shuttered.
That sense of uncertainty was evident among school officials minutes before a school leadership team meeting Wednesday that was abruptly cancelled. The school’s principal, Deborah Sanabria, declined to comment for this story.
“That’s not something they’ve brought to our attention as of yet,” said parent Nelson Santiago, referring to the city’s proposal. After picking up his daughter early from school Wednesday — because she’d been hit by another student, he said — Santiago explained that the school is headed in the right direction.
Despite the bullying his sixth-grade daughter experienced this year, he added, J.H.S. 162 was taken off the state’s list of “persistently dangerous schools.”
Still, if the state determined that the school was not performing, Santiago said it should be shut down. “If it’s not up to par, then that means my daughter’s education is not up to par.”
Rafael Capestany, who has two children at the school, agreed that there have been some signs of improvement, and said he hopes the school stays open despite its designation as among the worst in the state. “Whenever there’s a situation where students might fight, they handle it real fast,” he said. “I don’t see why they would have to close the school down.”
In addition to being part of the state’s receivership program, the school is also part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s high-profile Renewal program, which is designed to be less punitive. Under the city’s approach, low-performing schools have been infused with resources and social services and are expected to show gains over time. In a surprising discrepancy, J.H.S. 162 hit 83 percent of its benchmarks in the city’s program — a sign of improvement — but was still singled out by the state for a takeover.
Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor in the city’s department of education and current professor at Teachers College, said it is odd that the city would keep the school out of the loop on its plans, especially because it has invested so heavily in it as a community school.
“If the idea is that the schools should be part of the solution,” Nadelstern said, “to deny the vital information they need to keep doing that job effectively is not a good strategy.”
Still, others pointed out that if the city does get approval from the state to merge or close the school, the city will be legally required to hold hearings and solicit public comment — a process parents will be able to influence.
“The community would have a full opportunity to give its input once state approval had been secured,” said David Bloomfield an education law expert at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
City education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye emphasized that meetings were held at the beginning of the school year to inform families about the potential effects of the state’s receivership program.
“DOE officials have worked with [the State Education Department] as well as the superintendent — who knows the school best — to ensure the next steps for the J.H.S 162 community are best for kids,” Kaye wrote in an email.
“Starting next week, we will begin having a town hall forum and small group meetings to provide families with information and resources to make the right decisions for their child.”
The date and time of the town hall has not yet been announced.