Boys & Girls Principal calls DOE renaming school after Mandela manipulative

Stephen Witt
By Stephen WittDecember 19, 2013 15:01Updated

Boys & Girls Principal calls DOE renaming school after Mandela manipulative

Alleges renaming was a way to further dismantle Boys & Girls as the Pride of Bed-Stuy

By Stephen Witt

Honoring Nelson Mandela with a school named for him is a great gesture, but doing so with little community input from local educators accentuates how the Bloomberg Administration’s education policies have dismantled the positives in Bedford-Stuyvesant public schools.

So said Boys & Girls Principal Bernard Gassaway and Rev. Conrad Tillard, senior pastor of the Nazarene Congregational Church in their reaction to the city’s Department of Education announcing the Nelson Mandela High School of Social Justice to be placed in the Boys & Girls High School campus starting in September.

DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott made the announcement on Dec. 6, the day after Mandela died, at a school in Bay Ridge. The city’s press release on the announcement included remarks by Bloomberg and Walcott, but noticeably absent were remarks from anybody in the community.

“Unfortunately, the naming of the school the day after Nelson Mandela’s death was insensitive in a way for the (Bloomberg) administration thought to capitalize on his death,” said Gassaway. “I was at a seminar when I received word of the announcement and I felt it was opportunistic and frankly shameful. It thought some consideration would be given to mourn the death of a great man and any announcement could have waited until any period of mourning passed.”

Gassaway called the naming manipulative because the overall sentiment is nobody can or should be against it, but it also sent a mixed message and questions to both Boys & Girls High School and the community.  Among these questions are whether it would be a public or charter school and the type of curriculum it would follow.

Gassaway said the DOE informed him a sign would be put out in front of the school reading, “Boys & Girls High School Campus future home of the Nelson Mandela High School of Social Justice”, but when the sign came it just read, “Future Home of the Nelson Mandela School of Social Justice”.

“To add insult to injury, we had a sign about our Early Scholars program in coordination with the Long Island University Brooklyn campus and they took the sign down without consultation. It’s disrespectful,” he said.

The dustup over the renaming comes after Our Time Press recently reported the DOE dismantling Gifted and Talented programs in Bed-Stuy while installing several charter schools as co-locations in existing public schools.

Additionally, Boys & Girls High School, which is known as the “Pride of Bed-Stuy”,  has seen its student enrollment plummet from over 3,000 students five years ago to about 1,400 students as the DOE policy was to put small schools in one big school.

Additionally, Boys & Girls has received an “F” grade for the past three years.

But Gassaway contends that both the drop in enrollment and the failing grade stems from DOE actions including a public relations smear that saw the school flooded with at-risk students from around the borough – students that Gassaway accepted.

In spite of this, the Boys & Girls campus is a true community high school and allows the community to come in seven days a week to express what this community needs such as a culinary arts program where students learn to cook and to serve meals to the homeless through community, he said.

“We have great ideas and continue to support programs in place,” said Gassaway.

Tillard backed up Gassaway, noting the Boys & Girls High School debate team is exceptional and the school offers a strong curriculum and extracurricular activities.

“As a pastor, I always thought the grading system for schools is not an education tool, it’s a political system and I always urged Mr. Gassaway to opt out of that system,” said Tillard. “If you have charter schools that can pick and choose students and then you make Boys & Girls where anyone can attend, you need different tools to evaluate.”

Gassaway said the DOE’s mandate from the beginning of the Bloomberg Administration was to close big schools and to privatize the system.

“Money and contracts was the motivation behind Bloomberg’s DOE,” said Tillard. “We’re looking forward to working with the new administration. Boys & Girls High School will survive and it’s important the Mandela school works well with what’s already there.”

Stephen Witt
By Stephen WittDecember 19, 2013 15:01Updated
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