Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez called for parents to make their concerns known. (left)
“We're going to fight for the school,” said Assemblymember-elect Gabriela Rosa. (right)
Every morning, they wait in line to get their bags checked.
There are only two scanners, and 3,000 people must get through security before 8:05.
Keys, belts, coins left on one’s person can cause the scanners to beep, prompting a mandatory pat-down, taking more precious time.
Not an airport run with the Department of Homeland Security, this is an everyday morning at George Washington High School.
This is the drill before students step into the classroom.
On Thurs., Oct. 18th in the auditorium at George Washington High School (GWHS) at 192nd Street and Audubon Avenue, Department of Education administrators, the principals of the four schools that occupy GWHS, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, and Assemblymember-elect Gabriela Rosa, gathered in the auditorium ostensibly to discuss the schools’ removal from the impact list, a list of schools with high levels of reported crime.
But the discussion also touched on a lack of adequate resources; overcrowding; low student and parent morale; and the ongoing issue of safety for the school community.
Those present were eager to discuss solutions, stressing that they said they needed help and additional resources from administrators.
“We're going to fight for the school, but we're not going to do it alone," said Assemblymember-elect Rosa.
Approximately 50 parents and students attended, as did Anthony Lodico, the Department of Education’s High School Superintendent for Manhattan and The Bronx, and Elsa Nunez, District 6 Interim Superintendent.
The four schools housed by GWHS are the High School for Media and Communication on the first floor; the High School for International Business and Finance on the second floor; the High School for Health Careers and Sciences on the third floor; and the High School for Law and Public Service on the fourth floor.
While the High School for Media and Communications made headlines last school year when a student was stabbed in the hallway, so far this year, no violent crimes have been reported.
The administrative members present argued that the need for more scanners was symptomatic of a persistent lack of resources that schools all across the city face, making improving school environment even more challenging.
“Each year we are expected to do more with less,” said Principal Peter Sloman, the principal of the High School for International Business and Finance.
And the budget cuts have not merely been limited to security.
George Washington High School has taken losses from all sides.
Concerned parent Victoria Locker-Thomas said she is at the school all the time. “We have lost four teachers on one floor, and the school doesn’t have the funding to replace them,” she said.
Teacher Fred Arcoleo.
Her daughter’s school, the High School for Health Careers and Sciences is supposed to cap at 500 students.
Last year, there were over 700 students at the school.
Another parent, Ms. Fleming, reported that her daughter’s schedule has been changed five times because of teacher vacancies.
“It’s been uprooting,” she said.
She directed her remarks to the DOE personnel and elected officials at the blue table at the front of the room.
“I have gone through this school system as a student, as an employee, and as a parent. It sucks on all levels. Why are standards so low for public schools?” she asked.
Fred Arcoleo, an English teacher, said that 15 percent of the budget has been lost in the past five years. 1.6 percent will be lost for the coming semester, and another 4 percent will be cut from next year’s budget.
“I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and it’s never gotten better,” he said.
Students contributed impassioned voices to the conversation.
José Gomez, a senior and Vice President of the student government at High School for Health Careers and Sciences, takes calculus at one of the other schools because there are not enough teachers at his own school.
“This school has been crumbling. There’s no more art, and there’s never been music,” he said during his public remarks.
Others students reported that there are too many students in some classes, and students have to stand because there are not enough desks.
Gomez said that there are no textbooks for his calculus class.
Students are also frustrated about the fact that there is one library for all 3,000 students, and only one librarian.
In regards to complaints about the student to faculty ratio, administrators explained that budgets are allotted to maintain equilibrium between the two.
According to DOE data from the previous school year, average high school class size throughout the city was 27 students; at the High School for Health Careers and Sciences some classes reached 37 students per class.
The concerns cited prompted assurances from the DOE that a new look at the student-faculty ratio would be re-examined.
On the issue of scanners, Superintendent Lodica explained that the scanners are not part of the school budget, but rather the DOE’s budget, and that there also there would be a reassessment.
“We will try to find a way to get more scanners,” he said.
Another meeting will take place next month—though a date has not been set yet. Councilmember Rodriguez expressed the hope that the auditorium would be even more packed than it was on Thursday evening, and urged parents to encourage others to come.
“Next meeting, I want you to fill every single seat,” he said.