For Natoshia Wheeler, the argument that schools do better when they have more resources is proven every night in her living room.
Wheeler has three children in Brownsville schools. Her youngest and oldest attend two low-performing schools that share a building, the General D. Chappie James Elementary and Middle School of Science, where she is PTA president. Her middle daughter attends I.S. 392, a selective middle school located just six blocks away.
Recently Wheeler’s middle daughter brought home a new laptop that her school provided, equipped with a tools for free online tutoring. The tools allowed her to complete complicated projects, such as building a model island with different biomes on it, that enthralled her siblings.
But at the Chappie schools, Wheeler said after-school programs have been cut, the art teacher was let go, and students can’t always bring books home to use while completing homework. What’s more, she said, the three-year-old schools are only just finding their feet after replacing P.S./I.S. 183, a perennially failing that closed in 2008. Last year, on their first progress reports, both schools got D’s.
So when the elementary school got an F and the middle school got a D on their most recent progress reports, Wheeler said she was not shocked — but she was surprised that the city said it was considering shuttering the school. The city has not yet announced any closures but has named 20 elementary and middle schools that are eligible according to the Department of Education’s guidelines.
“Test scores are low,” she said. “I knew there were issues within the school that needed to be fixed. But I was surprised it was on the list of closures.”
Wheeler has organized parents, teachers, and students at the Chappie schools for a protest march tonight against the possible school closures. At the same time, community members at P.S. 298, another nearby school that has landed on the chopping block, will hold a protest march of their own. (P.S. 298 is where a mother was killed and a student shot after school dismissal last month.)
The two marches will convene at a third Brownsville school building where Chancellor Dennis Walcott is set to hold a town hall meeting for families in District 23. That building, which was evacuated twice yesterday with safety concerns, houses I.S. 392, as well as an elementary school, P.S. 156.
Wheeler said I.S. 634’s student drum corps would set a beat for the march. Parents will hold a press conference before the town hall meeting and then speak out during the meeting itself, she said.
Tonight’s event is the latest in a series of preemptive protests against school closures that advocacy groups are helping parents at each school organize. The groups, the Alliance for Quality Education and the Coalition for Educational Justice, have long opposed school closures, arguing instead that struggling schools would be better served by additional resources.
That’s exactly what I.S. 634 needs, Wheeler said.
“This school is a friendly school. It’s parent-friendly, it’s children-friendly. There’s no reason to close it,” she said. “Give them what they need and leave them alone — you’ll see the difference.”