Brooklyn, New York - The temperature was rising. The affected community residents were there in force - emotional, and very vocal on their positions as it relates to the matter at hand. And as the phrase goes in Brooklyn - “the doo doo is about to hit the fan.” But was, or is, anybody listening?
- Of our 710 students who take performing arts, 361
specialize in a focused discipline and complete an
extensive three year sequence by the time they graduate.
This is an inclusive program whose participants consist
of students with special needs, English language
learners and general education students. The students
are not only trained in Instrumental Band, Steel Pan
Orchestra, Theatre, Chorus and Dance, but also learn
theatre production. This includes training in lighting,
sound, set design and direction.
- Our specialty performing arts rooms and our computer
labs take up 9 of our 22 classrooms on the third floor.
This does not include our Hearing Lab for our hearing
impaired students, our room for our adaptive PE
students, the guidance office, the office for one of our
CBOs, our SBST room, the ELA Coach’s office, the Social
. Worker’s office, one of our Assistant Principal’s
office and our English Language Learner’s Lab. This is
the “third floor” that the Department of Education would
like to give 19 rooms to Uncommon Charter Schools to
- Allowing a charter school to occupy a floor in Meyer
Levin will create conditions in our school as if we were
at full capacity. At capacity, more than one quarter of
the teachers have to travel from room to room for their
classes. When a teacher has to travel, it takes away
from valuable lesson time. Having one’s own room helps
teachers and students take ownership of the space and it
becomes a true learning environment.
Teaching and learning will suffer a severe setback.
- Co-locating a charter school at Meyer Levin will
inevitably destroy the Performing Arts Program, [as that
program’s third floor location is what is targeted for
use by the charter school]. We have a very unique
program at our school. Each grade has a designated
Breakout and lunch period.
- Why is this necessary? Budget cuts have decimated
all of our after-school programs. Our original
theatrical productions are student-created and rehearsed
during their breakout periods. Our special program
enables our students to provide the quality and quantity
of shows that they perform for the school and East
Flatbush community, as well as, numerous performances at
events around New York City.
- How can we devote so much instructional time to the
performing arts? We are able to provide our performing
arts programming because we are a multi-session school.
This means that we have two different start and end
times for our student population. Being multi-session
gives us the flexibility to program the performing arts
in this special way.
- This programming provides the level/quality/ variety
of our productions. Having a charter school share our
building will eliminate our flexibility.
- This will destroy the quality of our productions.
- It will lessen the time our students get to study
- It will further deplete our register, because the
performing arts is the main reason students want to
attend Meyer Levin.
So here is the plan: next Fall, kindergarten kids from a charter school called the “Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School (18K285)” will be ‘given’ the third floor of Meyer Levin Junior High School. Meyer Levin is a dedicated Performing Arts school in Brooklyn that has a long and awesome history. In addition, grades one through five of this “Uncommon Charter” will be phased in over the next five years into Meyer Levin. What kind of sick “Criminal Minds” would want to mix kindergarten children or even grades 1-5 with Junior High School students?
And there you have it. It’s not about what’s good for the current Meyer Levin students, or even the incoming “Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School” kindergarteners. It’s about five years down the line when students won’t look anything like the current students - if everything goes according to the developers’, and gentrifiers’ (new people moving into the neighborhood) plan.
Artist rendering of a luxury condominium building being built on Nostrand Avenue, corner Albemarle Road in East Flatbush
On this evening, four representatives from the Board of Education (BOE) came to Meyer Levin to explain why they targeted the school, and also to take back what they heard, and recorded - to their superiors or final decision-makers.
Beverly A. Wilkins, Community Superintendent, District 18
The foursome were Jamie Dollinger - Department of Education: Office of District Planning; Drew Patterson - Department of Education: Office of Portfolio Management; Beverly A. Wilkins, Community Superintendent, District 18 and; Charles Fisher, Director of Space Planning, Chancellor’s designee on space allocation. What was abundantly clear is that these four could care less what the community wanted. They were simply doing their job - which they made abundantly clear numerous times. I must admit that halfway through the session I started to see devil’s horns coming out of these four BOE representatives. Where have you ever heard “Money is no problem. We will fix or rebuild anything we disturb.”
Clearly, this was about taking over a building, and phasing/moving out the current residents (Meyer Levin students). The Pilgrims were never this bold.
One of CASYM Steel Orchestra’s former panyards on Clarkson Avenue, where another set of condominiums will be built
Speaker after speaker spoke on why just the thought of housing a charter school inside the walls of Meyer Levin Junior High School should be a capital offense. The speakers included past students who are now Ivy League graduates, teachers, parents and current students. One of the most dynamic speakers was a current seventh grader who explained that the third floor being taken away, was the heart of this Performing Arts school. She explained all the critical activities that take place on the third floor that are so essential to the success of what the school is known for - those Performing Arts. Call me cynical, but I’m sure the BOE knew this as they were plotting this invasion. Remove the heart of something - it dies.
Of course the very successful and renowned Meyer Levin Steel Orchestra, which was started and grown from scratch by educator and musician Tichard Chapman is housed on the third floor. The group, when joined by Meyer Levin band alums to perform outside of the school environs is known as Higher Levin Steel Orchestra.
But it is not over yet. At least not technically. There will be another meeting and then a vote. This seems sort of backwards since the community has already said “No” and has asked to be just left alone. So who do the BOE and the Mayor work for? Obviously, the developers and corporations that fund the Charter Schools.
Dressed in red shirts that bore the community battle cry “Whose School?” on the front, and on the back, “Our School” with the hashtag #Savemeyerlevin on the back, the community members and people directly connected with Meyer Levin—both past and present—on this day let it be known they are not going down peacefully.
It appears that the actions or inactions of Bill de Blasio are just as evil and dangerous as his predecessor - Michael Bloomberg, the man who would be King, tyrant and dictator. Who can forget how Bloomberg simply added a third four-year period to his term? Indeed, as one community speaker so articulately expressed, how he never thought things would have gotten to this moment under the de Blasio administration. He—like many others—expected better.
One of the most diabolical and insidiously disenfranchising movements that poor people in general and black people in particular, have had forced on them in recent times, is the placing of Charter Schools within the confines of public schools. Add the dirge of unwanted gentrification of Brooklyn with Charter Schools and we’ve got New York’s version of Flint’s (in Michigan) water problem, but in the education system. Of course it could get worse: we could have Charter Jails and Prisons in the near future. The whole concept of Charter Schools being placed within normal public schools is immoral.
Charter schools must have, and be placed, in their own buildings. Maybe de Blasio and his crew should consider housing these charter schools inside of all these luxury buildings (unwanted by the current residents of course) that are going up everywhere within our communities. But that was not part of the plan. The so-called pioneers are not pioneering anymore. They have descended on Brooklyn in a manner similar to the scene from “Dances With Wolves” when Dunbar tells the Sioux ‘how many whites are coming’ - in essence, quote, “As many as the stars in the sky.” Wiping out all previous culture, community and in some cases, humanity.
So as part of the continued ‘disconnect’ between City Hall, politicians, developers, the continuously arriving outsiders - and the people living in Brooklyn for multiple generations, will have the effect of a bullet that will hit its true target years down the line after it has been fired - or fired from around the corner, so you will never remember who fired it.
Artist rendering of luxury building slated for site of former pan yard of CASYM Steel Orchestra
The dismantling of the original Brooklyn communities where Black and Hispanic people live has been very selective, and a continuous onslaught - simply because they want to and they can. The message is “you’re dead men walking; if we don’t get you this time, we will get you the next time.”
The incredible part of the meeting that evening in the Meyer Levin Junior High School was the ease in which these four from the Board of Education (Jamie Dollinger, Drew Patterson, Beverly A. Wilkins, Charles Fisher) were able to simply say, quote: “Based on our ‘footprint’ we can do this.” The foursome claimed that their ‘footprint’ showed a predicted decrease in the Meyer Levin student body. In other words, eventually ‘no longer around.’ This conclusion because, ostensibly in about five years, given their plans to further phase in Grades one through five of that “Uncommon Charter” school. Of course the BOE group never did not say why the predicted decrease in the number of students; leading to an inference that the community whose children are in attendance, would themselves not be around. Obviously it is directly connected to the invasion and gentrification of our communities by outsiders. Very rich white people. Furthermore, they are not moving into our communities because they like you, want to share your culture, or even have their children go to school with yours. They are here for the buildings and land. And they want you gone - by any means necessary. Don’t believe it? Read on...
“.... I put in white tenants. They want to know if black people are going to be living there. So sometimes we have ten apartments and everything is white, and then all of the sudden one tenant comes in with one black roommate, and they don’t like it. They see black people and get all riled up, they call me: “We’re not paying that much money to have black people live in the building.” If it’s white tenants only, it’s clean....” Source: nymag.com
Brooklyn was once known as Bradley’s town. The place where 100-plus-players steel orchestras lived and thrived. There was a time not long ago when it was common on Panorama day in Brooklyn (Saturday before Labor Day), to see rack after rack loaded with steeldrums rolling down the streets of Brooklyn from their panyards in various neighborhoods to the Brooklyn Museum. Steel orchestras like Metro, Despers USA, Pan Masters, Hilanders, Harlem Allstars, Sonatas, Moods, Fascinators, Golden Stars, Nebulae, Satisfiers, NY Harmonites, Afronics, Sonics, Brooklynaires, Pantonic, Silhouettes, among others.
At the Meyer Levin Junior High School meeting it was good to see a few members of the Brooklyn steelband music community, (in addition to their ‘little’ brothers and sisters of Meyer and Higher Levin Steel Orchestras) at the session giving support. Hopefully the entire steelband community will be present at the next meeting and help avoid that final chapter that says “There used to be Indians, Cherry trees, and 100-plus-player steel orchestras in Brooklyn, J’Ouvert and Labor Day Carnival on Eastern Parkway - and a Performing Arts program at Meyer Levin which included a full steelband music orchestra.”
That next and last meeting before the vote will be on April 11th at 5:30 p.m. at I.S. 285 Meyer Levin Junior High School, 5909 Beverley Road, Brooklyn, NY.
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