Gotham Schools – February 26, 2013

At three tiny schools, brief closure hearing air common themes……..

Freedom Academy High School

Parents, teachers, and other supporters of Freedom Academy High School passionately defended the school at its closure hearing on Monday night, citing strong six-year graduation rates despite what they described as a lack of support from the city.

Unlike most schools it has proposed for closure, the Department of Education has no plans to replace Freedom Academy High School. The city’s lease on Freedom Academy’s Downtown Brooklyn building expires at the end of the school year, and under the city’s plan, students who do not graduate from the 171-student school in June would be offered a seat in another high school.

Freedom Academy, whose entering students typically have very low skill levels, has received “F” grades on its last two city progress reports. The Department of Education also cites the school’s four-year graduation rate of 50 percent as a reason for its closing.

But supporters pointed to an 85 percent six-year graduation rate as proof of the school’s success and said the Department of Education fails to understand Freedom Academy’s unique student body.

“We have 16-year-olds coming into the school in ninth grade,” said Maxine Norton, the school’s parent coordinator for eight years. “How are we going to graduate those kids on time?”

Though the hearing lasted less than an hour, those who spoke in support of Freedom Academy were adamant, often raising their voices to tell Department of Education representatives that closing the school would not solve its problems.

“We educate children,” said Susanne Veder Berger, who runs a newspaper internship within the school. “We do not close schools. … We do not throw children into 60 different schools. It does not work.”

Jeremy Del Rio, executive director of 20/20 Vision for Schools, a group that has been helping to provide extracurricular activities at Freedom Academy since it received its first “F,” said the Department of Education’s presence in the school last year was counterproductive. He said news of the potential closing demoralized students when they received it in January, two weeks before Regents exams.

“Basically what they’re telling the school community is, ‘You’re a bunch of failures,’” Del Rio said about the department.

Despite the perceived lack of support, teachers and staff said the school is improving. They also said they believed that the students at Freedom Academy — some of whom are homeless and come from troubled backgrounds — need the school and the support it provides.

“Progress has been made and support has not been given,” said Jonathan Schulman, a law teacher. “If [the students] didn’t have us, where would they get other people to do what we do everyday? Where would they be?”

No students spoke at the hearing, but Stephanie Lopez, a 10th-grader who attended, said the idea of closing Freedom Academy hurt her. “I’ve made a community here,” she said.

Since transferring to the school last fall, Lopez’s grades have improved and she’s developed an interest in poetry. After the hearing, she sat with Pat Sutherland-Cohen, a Freedom Academy mentor and teaching coach, discussing a book of poetry.

“That’s the type of student you get at Freedom,” Sutherland-Cohen said.

–Amanda Cedrone

At three tiny schools, brief closure hearing air common themes

About Susanne:
Susanne Veder Berger is an author, educator, business executive and mother, who currently lives' on New York City's Upper West Side. Susanne has held a variety of executive positions in the field of marketing for CitiGroup, the U.S. Tennis Association and a number of other companies and organizations. Over the past 4 years, Susanne has been working with inner city high school students in Brooklyn, New York helping them develop self-esteem, prepare for college and secure internships – Susanne Veder Berger's work in education is centered around the implementation of extra curricular activities and the development of student-run journalism programs.