(New York School Talk exists to offer a “safe space” for parents, teachers, students, and anyone invested in public education. Most of our bloggers support charter school expansion in New York City. Not all of them do. We deeply value all voices and believe that differing opinions can lead to enlightened strategies to address what we uniformly support: better schools for all New York’s children.)
Every year, students and teachers who go to school and work within the New York City Department of Education take surveys that cover things like how welcomed students feel in school, how knowledgeable students feel their teachers are, and how safe both parties feel in their schools on a day-to-day basis.
This last question is one that, to me, is of the utmost importance because one has to feel safe in order to learn. Even if a student feels welcomed and a teacher is knowledgeable in his/her content area, if neither one feels safe, the whole process of teaching and learning goes out the window. Sadly, too often, feelings of being unsafe prevail in schools throughout NYC.
One of the main contributors to this lack of safety that, in my experience, is rarely explored, is the sharing of traditional public school space with charter schools. Group dynamics is a real phenomenon, as is school culture. Adding more students to school buildings that already have their own issues, safety and otherwise, only exacerbates an already overwhelming problem. The problem becomes particularly nuanced when the “haves” of the charter school students in the form of updated technology and new playground equipment are held side-by-side and in stark contrast to the “have-nots” of the traditional public school children who were often there first, yet not afforded the equitable educational amenities.
To further add insult to injury, school safety becomes jeopardized when students who are not being indoctrinated with the same school culture are placed together in close quarters within the same building. In this way, the charter school can often be perceived as an unwanted guest who is intruding. Instead of addressing this very real concern, though, the powers that be proceed in a very “business as usual” frame of mind and when all hell breaks loose — which it usually does — the solution is not to find separate locations for the schools, but instead, to invest in more school safety agents and metal detectors. I find this course of action to be limited in value and not in the best interest of the students’ or the teachers’ safety.
For example, according to this New York Post story, a survey at Rockaway Collegiate High School in Queens showed that 85 percent of teachers found order and discipline sorely lacking and more than the 81 percent at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Preservation did. “Chaos heightened this fall after the DOE let a seventh school, a charter, squeeze into the complex, creating ‘a juggling act’ for lunch times, auditorium space, and other resources.”
When has adding more people to an already ailing dynamic ever helped a situation improve? Never. Yet this bad practice happens continually.
If the safety of our NYC DOE students and teachers is truly a concern, we must move beyond the statistics garnered from a survey and put the data into actionable steps of change that will make the safety of all a priority. Then and only then can we see academic and professional improvement in our NYC public schools.