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Siege on Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts Continues

Community tells DOE to “Leave Us Alone!”

NYC council member Jumaane D. Williams leads the audience in a "No Co-Lo" (No Co-location) chant after his address
NYC council member Jumaane D. Williams leads the audience in a “No Co-Lo“ (No Co-location) chant after his address

Brooklyn, New York - At least Columbus had the decency to invade and carry out his dastardly and detestable deeds in person. But not so with heads of the DOE (Department of Education). They send out their minions to execute their insidious and diabolical plans and sit back and watch as a community comes to blows with itself from within. Martyrs for us and entertainment for them. These plans, like this one to co-locate a charter school within the confines of the Meyer Levin Junior High School for the Performing Arts, are just plain “stupid” as NYC council member Jumaane D. Williams so aptly pointed out in his public address to DOE officials in the latest meeting. However, as they say in the neighborhood - not to worry, “Stupid” is not at home and we didn’t only go to school on Sunday.

NYC council member Jumaane D. Williams addresses the panel, while some audience members applaud his words
NYC council member Jumaane D. Williams addresses the panel, while some audience members applaud his words

They (the DOE and the City of New York) are dangling the lives and future welfare of this community’s children on both sides of the equation - over a cliff, and have convinced both sides you must fight to the death. Look back at history when Belgium as a colonial power, fostered a system of supremacy - ‘one better than the other’ between two main tribes in Rwanda—the Tutsis over the Hutus, concentrating power through the Tutsis and disenfranchising the Hutus—which after generations of festering, eventually was the backdrop which led to the infamous 100-day Rwandan genocide in 1994.  One does not expect any such occurrence due to the general foisting of Charter Schools on institutions where they are clearly not welcome, such as is the case with Meyer Levin. But the premise of ‘look out for yourself’ is clearly and historically a recipe for utter disaster. In reality this is about destroying what was already working, as evidenced through the sincere dreams and aspirations of achievement and advancement, along with documented success stories, of another section of the same community - and manipulated by these skillful devils. No matter what the final decision this community has already lost. The wounds resulting in this controlled madness set in motion by the DOE will never heal and the community can never be made whole again. Ultimately, the divide-and-conquer strategy is in full effect within much of the Charter School network.

James Anthony Dandridge making the case on behalf of parents, the students, community, and himself, at the meeting
James Anthony Dandridge making the case on behalf of parents, the students, community, and himself, at the meeting

One of the earliest presenters of the evening, James Anthony Dandridge, President of the Community Education Council of District 18, put it very eloquently when, speaking on behalf of the parents and children of the district, he said in part “I’m personally opposed to the fact, that, attending these hearings, that the community itself (is) parent versus parent, neighbor versus neighbor, children versus children - and pitted against each other. History has a way of repeating itself. I’m going back to our history as an African people, to the African continent, when tribes fought against each other, and we wound up being put in slavery, and sent to a place that we didn’t want to be.”

Meyer Levin students await their turn at the podium (right) to give voice to their concerns Meyer Levin students await their turn at the podium (right) to give voice to their concerns
Meyer Levin music educator and steelband director Tichard Chapman addresses the panel
Meyer Levin music educator and steelband director Tichard Chapman addresses the panel

This was the second and final public meeting with the DOE in attendance before the vote. And as one entered the Meyer Levin main entrance, you were greeted by the sweet sound of Pan from the Meyer Levin Steel Orchestra which was in the gym, directly across from the meeting venue of the auditorium. The group was performing an awesome rendition of some of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits in a medley. Their instructor, Tichard Chapman (pictured right) was on drums; he would speak later on in the auditorium, in protest of the planned co-location. This steel orchestra is one of the main components of the performing arts program whose life is being held in the balance. The  talent of these young people is undeniable.

Meyer Levin Steel Orchestra performs and entertains in the gymnasium before the meeting gets underway Meyer Levin Steel Orchestra performs and entertains in the gymnasium before the meeting gets underway
Addressing everyone present at the meeting: incoming Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter 18K285 elementary school principal Tara Marlovits - currently the Chief Operating Officer, Uncommon New York City
Addressing everyone present at the meeting: incoming Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter 18K285 elementary school principal Tara Marlovits - currently the Chief Operating Officer, Uncommon New York City

The Meyer Levin auditorium quickly filled to capacity with lots of anxious and emotional parents in attendance. On the left side of the auditorium were some parents and children from the Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School (18K285). And on the right were the folks from Meyer Levin. And stoically seated in the center or middle of the auditorium, wearing dress shirts and ties, emotionless and somewhat detached, was the contingent we suspect who may have been teachers from the Uncommon Charter School. It was obvious they really had no skin in the game. Moreover they didn’t look like anyone from our community. In any regard they came across like zombies or “others” in the movie The 5th Wave or something out of Colony. What we didn’t know at the time, and would only find later was that the seating was all orchestrated. As one Meyer Levin teacher said in his address, he was already being made to feel uncomfortable in his own school  - ‘being told where to go, where to sit’ and this was just a meeting. The sad part about all of this was is the Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter’s students and parents were placed in the unenviable role of invaders. 

Seated in the front row: at left, Jamie Dollinger - Department of Education: Office of District Planning, while at right is Drew Patterson - Department of Education: Office of Portfolio Management
Seated in the front row: at left, Jamie Dollinger - Department of Education: Office of District Planning, while at right is Drew Patterson - Department of Education: Office of Portfolio Management

The optics for this meeting were very different than the first meeting. Two of the main architects of this calamity—Jamie Dollinger - Department of Education: Office of District Planning, and Drew Patterson - Department of Education: Office of Portfolio Management—were not walking point at this meeting. They were not part of the panel and did not engage anyone, as at the previous gathering. Instead they were off-center for this event and although definitely present, they sat in the audience themselves, in the front row.  If you hadn’t seen them from the first meeting one would never have been any the wiser as to their roles in this catastrophe; and in fact, most in attendance were not.

Speaker after speaker consisting of community residents, leaders, politicians, teachers, parents and students eloquently, logically and at times scientifically spoke to the issue of why co-locating Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School within Meyer Levin was a death sentence to Meyer Levin Junior High School itself continuing as an elite performing arts school. And then - they were immediately followed by the parents of the Kings Collegiate Charter School students who spoke to how well their children were doing as result of being in the charter school program. But not one could give a reason why the Uncommon Charter should be co-located within, and imposed upon, Meyer Levin, at the detriment of the latter. They could only speak to how thrilled they were at the education and opportunities being afforded to their children, and no words for the many concerns articulated by those in support of Meyer Levin and its mandate for Performing Arts. In fact, one charter school parent went so far as to say to Meyer Levin attendees, that if Meyer Levin was so much about ‘family’ - which was a rallying point earlier on, that they would welcome Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School; this, obviously regardless that there is demonstratively no room for them at Meyer Levin.

Parents of Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School await their turn to speak in favor of the co-location within Meyer Levin Junior High School Parents of Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School await their turn to speak in favor of the co-location within Meyer Levin Junior High School

At the conclusion of this second meeting it became abundantly clear this was not a case of bureaucratic madness or incompetence. Instead, it was evil and very bad people at the DOE, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office and the NYC Mayor’s office.  In the neighborhood of the Uncommon Kings Collegiate Charter School—with city approval—luxury buildings are being built in every nook and cranny to accommodate people who are not part of the community and don’t live there - well not yet.  Yet the resources are not available to build schools for programs like Uncommon Charter for community residents whose children are already here?

Yolanda Torres - Executive Superintendent, DOE  Division of Family and Community Engagement
Yolanda Torres - Executive Superintendent, DOE  Division of Family and Community Engagement

Even though there was concrete proof this can’t work and is unwanted, co-location is being forced upon the District 18 community. Just check out what happened when Kindergarten students were introduced in Tilden High School located not too far from Meyer Levin. This has been an abject failure. In fact, on a couple occasions when speakers, including a Meyer Levin teacher, brought up the Tilden fiasco, they were immediately shut down by DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement, Executive Superintendent Yolanda Torres, a member of the panel on hand.

In the final analysis the Brooklyn Borough President, Chancellor Carmen Farińa and the DOE, and the Mayor, have sold out the present residents of District 18 to the developers and the wealthy.  Utilization plans for the Meyer Levin Junior High School building and the DOE’s ‘Educational Impact Statement’ have already been drawn up and released. No matter what they say, it’s about five years from now when the current community residents are not supposed to around any longer.

A hero’s dilemma with his and/or her most prized possession in the balance - the children.  There will be no heroes in this fight that should never have been.

A young student of Myer Levin spoke of how she wrote to Chancellor Carmen Farińa, along with others at the DOE detailing her concerns over the proposed co-location in her school. The response was the Chancellor’s office contacting Meyer Levin expressing indignation that this young person had dared to, or had the audacity, to question DOE’s co-location proposal. So whose school? Is anybody listening? Or is it simply a case of “They Don’t Care About Us” as the late Michael Jackson said...

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Parents, teachers, students and community residents voice their feelings on the charter school being placed within Meyer Levin school building
 

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“Carol of The Bells” - Meyer Levin Steel Orchestra - arranged by Tichard Chapman; Brooklyn, New York - click for story, and additional performances

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