Monday, January 23, 2012

Peninsula Prep Parent Speaks Out

Closing Peninsula Prep Leaves Inferior Options

Jan. 20, 2012, 1:33 p.m.
Last week’s article on the school that my son, Jadyn, attends, Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School, captured the city’s attention for a brief moment. Our story, which we, the parents, had been agonizing over during that week, was at least being read by other parents and education activists who know all too well the recurring theme of school closures.
We live in austere times, and although I write this on Martin Luther King Day, who famously spoke of the need for government investment in programs of “social uplift,” the political narrative seems deadlocked on themes like “accountability.”
The community at Peninsula Prep would agree with that goal. Our school’s mission statement includes a passage that speaks to the school’s commitment to a “no-excuses” culture.
However, a disconnect between accountability and proper stewardship of our children’s education seems to be developing here. James Merriman, an important charter lobbyist, wrote a post last week rationalizing and justifying Peninsula Prep’s closure, despite its consistent strides academically.
Readers of last week’s initial story on Peninsula Prep might not understand that despite the C grade on our last four progress reports, the gains that the children made were offset by a change in how grades are assessed (changes, I might add, that were not included in the conditions of the last renewal).
A group of Peninsula Prep parents and I have banded together and begun to organize and mobilize ourselves to ask this question. Many are motivated by one fact alone: 95 percent of Peninsula Prep’s students find themselves being directed by the city Department of Education to zoned public schools that Peninsula Prep outperformed.
So therefore you have a situation wherein the same authorities that rationalize the closing of our school for lackluster performance are also telling the parents that their only options are those that are inferior to what they already have.
Most parents tell me that they enrolled their children in Peninsula specifically to avoid these same schools in Rockaway, many of which are notorious for violence. Parents said Peninsula was one of the few choices in their memory that had been afforded to our community by the City of New York.
The fact of its closing has left both parents and community leaders utterly confused.
Policy-making without attention to details never makes for good policy. One cannot hope to positively affect the lives of people in our community without regard to the local conditions within which our community finds itself.
Folks like Mr. Merriman, who incorrectly identified our school as a Far Rockaway school instead of a Rockaway Park school, cannot possibly see the view from the ground that has led me to defend our school so adamantly.
He cannot see the benefits that the new building we are now in have given us, allowing such enhancements as flag football and basketball programs run by the parents in the gym and grass field the children now call their own.
He cannot see the parental attendance of our P.T.O. meetings (among the very best in the city). But perhaps most importantly, he cannot comprehend what stuffing 346 students into local schools, many which are in a progressive state of decline — and one of which is in the process of being phased out, causing even more perplexity about the wisdom of sending Peninsula students there — will mean for education in our community.
The Rockaways unfortunately do not present enough opportunities for children who are eager to grow. We as parents therefore have an obligation to our children and a democratic responsibility to speak out when policy overlooks the people it is intended to serve.
So we have come to the conclusion that apart from the politics and passions that charters evoke, we must speak for our children, not from the left or from the right, but from the ground up, to hold the system accountable to us, the parents of 346 children out here on the outskirts of the city: Rockaway, Queens.
Josmar Trujillo is co-president of the Peninsula Preparatory Charter School in Rockaway, Queens, where his son, Jadyn, is in second grade.

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