Greenpoint Gazette

Reaction to 126 and Automotive Closings

BY Nick Powell

Teachers and students had markedly different reactions to the recent news that two local Greenpoint schools were being shut down and re-opened under different names next school year. The Department of Education’s Panel for Education Policy decided Thursday that Automotive High School and John Ericsson Middle School would be among 24 schools that were slated for “turnaround” closure plans.

“Obviously this was a school that needed help,” said Will Stasiuk, 43, a history teacher and basketball coach at Automotive for the past 18 years. “The system failed us. Very little of the money we needed reached the children and we are not sure where it went.”

Details of the turnaround process for both schools are still unclear, but according to teachers at Automotive, the school will be folded in with several other high schools and would still primarily run a vocational curriculum. Teachers have been told at both schools that they can re-apply for their old jobs, and that the new institution can hire a maximum of fifty percent of the school’s former faculty, based on qualifications and seniority. The Department of Education (DOE) did not respond to comment for this article.

Teachers at both schools say they were made aware of the potential for turnaround at the beginning of the school year. Some said the students had difficulty comprehending the situation, especially at Ericsson, and that the DOE made half-hearted efforts to relay the message to the students.

“I had to make sure I told my kids, the students are safe here, but they might have different teachers next year, but they don’t understand,” said Ms. Soto, an English teacher for sixth and seventh graders at Ericsson. “We had an assembly where the Chancellor came and the kids were asking him all of these questions and he didn’t even respond, he just stood there and shook his head.”

Students at Automotive seemed less impacted by the news, noting that while some teachers would be missed, they get to walk through the same doors next year regardless of the name on the front of the school.

“As long as I get a High School Diploma, I don’t care what school I go to,” said Sharod Harrell, a 17-year old junior at Automotive.

The closure process left a sour taste for most of the teachers, who were forced to go through the motions without knowing whether they would enter the following school year with their jobs intact. Carlos Barrientos, a 24-year old Special Education teacher at Automotive said the constant speculation and administrative turnover made it difficult for him to do his job and that he most likely would not be re-applying to the new school next year.

“I had three principals in three years, six instructional AP’s [assistant principals], there was just no consistency,” he said. “Every year there was a new rubric. The only thing consistent for me was the kids, so I make sure I take chances in the classroom for the rest of the year to leave something of value.”

Other teachers were simply saddened to see a neighborhood institution fall by the wayside.

“You know once you’re on that list [of potential closure] that it’s a possibility,” said a Special Education teacher at Ericsson who declined to give her name. “But it’s upsetting from a neighborhood perspective. I attended school here and I want what’s best for these kids.”

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