Jamillah Cooper, a parent of a sixth grader at Tech International, said she learned that her daughter Jerolina had been bullied at her previous school from reading her daughter’s essay.
A teacher at Tech International asked the class to write about bullying, and Jerolina’s response to that class assignment, when Cooper read it, felt like a revelation.
“That school got to my heart. They got something out of my daughter that I never would have known if she had not gone to that school,” Cooper said.
So now, Cooper is trying to keep Tech International open after the 2016-2017 school year, when the charter school is slated to close its doors. Cooper and other parents started a petition, which they plan to give to community leaders, Tech International and the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which approves and renews charter school applications.
The circumstances surrounding Tech International’s planned closure remains a mystery to parents, some of them say. Eddy Perez, whose daughter is in the fifth grade, said school employees cited low test scores. But Cooper and parents Eddy Perez and Omar Martinez, doubt it was the sole reason. All said their children received good grades and added that state exams do not reflect what they are learning.
Parents are upset that the school never told them there was any trouble when they enrolled their children—some of them as recently as last fall—Perez said. And when the decision to close was made, the school never consulted the parents, nor even gave them “a way to try to fight to save it,” Perez said.
School principal Ryan McCabe disagrees.
“Our parents were invited in October to participate in an open meeting with the SUNY Board of Trustees, and we held a public hearing in November with the Department of Education present to give comments to our authorizers about the feelings of our community,” he said in an email to The Press. “Many parents and families came out for those events and allowed their voice to be heard.”
By late 2016, McCabe said, it became clear the SUNY would not renew Tech International’s charter because of the school’s low performance on state exams. He considered challenging SUNY’s intention through the courts, decided it was futile and opted to withdraw Tech International’s application for charter renewal, he said.
The school has shown little support for parents’ campaign to save it from closure, said Cooper. She said that she had been called into a meeting at the school with assistant principal Kelly Brewington, who asked her to stop her efforts and questioned her motives. But Brewington denied any one-on-one meeting ever took place, and did not comment on the substance of the allegations.
The petition to keep the school open had garnered 80 signatures by early February. Tech International had 349 students during the 2015-2016 school year, according to Education Department data, but it was not clear how many of the students were siblings from the same families.
If the school’s closure is imminent, parents want at least for the principal to keep his word and help them find good schools for their children, parents say.
According to parents, Tech International held a meeting on Jan. 26 to help them find new schools. However, they described the information session as disorganized and chaotic.
No Spanish translator was present, and some of the parents did not fully understand the discussion, Perez said. Cooper gave a similar account: “Parents were [asking] other parents” about the information being presented, she said in a phone interview.
About 100 people attended, and “there was chaos,” Cooper said.
Tech International staff gave parents a list of charter and public schools, Martinez said. But his son, currently a sixth-grader, would not even be eligible for some of those schools because they were outside of District 10, he said.
According to Cooper, Perez and Martinez, McCabe was absent from the Jan. 26 meeting, and that did not help improve parents’ mood either. The principal said he was at the meeting sitting with parents and students. By all accounts, the principal had attended an earlier meeting, on Jan. 4—when he told families about the school’s impending closure, said Lucy Lamont, parents’ association president.
Lamont added that McCabe appeared to be distancing himself from parents, while some of the other staff members acted as if “we are bothering them.” McCabe maintains that the school promised parents that it would “continue to provide the highest quality education possible through June and assist our families to get placements in other schools that will work to serve their students, to the extent we can” and that he is in contact with parents through phone calls, meetings and text messages.
“During the first week of January, we sent home a letter with contact information for schools and a packet of information with curated information about all of the local public charter and public schools in District 10 was distributed in our meeting on Jan. 26,” McCabe said in an email to The Press. But the law does not guarantee a seat at a charter school, he added.
SUNY spokeswoman Michelle Bianchi said she and other university employees “understand how emotional and disruptive a school closure can be for students, families, and staff and the Institute always strives to make the transition for all involved as smooth as possible.”
According to Education Department figures, only 13 percent of Tech International students met state standards on English exams and 16 percent of students met state standards on the math exam during the 2015-2016 school year. The numbers each marked a 2-percent increase from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, the numbers stood at 24 percent in the district and 37 percent in the city for English, and at 20 percent and 32 percent in the district and city, respectively, for math.
Cooper said she would fight for the school: “I promised [Jerolina] and I committed that regardless...if she were in that school or not in that school.”