Medgar Ever College Preparatory School (MECPS) parents and students last night brought the fight for the academically successful school directly to Mayor Bill de Blasio in his home neighborhood Park Slope Town Hall.
The event, held at MS 51, William Alexander Middle School, 350 5th Avenue, drew hundreds of local residents, community leaders and elected officials.
But it was several concerned MCEPS parents and one student, who dominated a good part of the town hall to directly question the Mayor and his city commissioners on what they say is a change of policy that will water down the specialized 6-12-grade Crown Heights school.
MECPS Student Body President Madison Miller kicked off the firing squad of questions, asking the mayor why he doesn’t provide for more classrooms and facilities for her school that currently lacks a gymnasium and auditorium.
“Mr. Mayor, although we have a 97% graduation rate and over 22 AP [advanced placement courses], how can you help us get more classrooms, a gym, even an auditorium, sometime soon because we have been asking for over 10 years?” asked Miller.
De Blasio, standing alongside the President of School Construction Authority (SCA), Lorraine Grillo, countered by stating that he “finally fulfilled the legal mandate to provide physical education for all students and to create gym space either in every school building in the city, or as an annex, or as something we lease near by.”
Grillo went on to note that the lack of facilities, specifically at MECPS is a space issue in relation to the City University of New York (CUNY) campus. According to Grillo, there is “no available space” that CUNY is offering to MECPS for the development of a gym or auditorium.
Grillo said MECPS is located on the CUNY campus of Medgar Evers College, and as a result, the land around the school state not city controlled. The state of New York would have to offer up available space specifically designated for MECPS in order for students to receive new facilities or an annex off-campus would have to be sought otherwise.
But Dr. Lorna Fairweather, a parent and member of the PTA, countered that there is space available for extra facilities.
“When the women [Grillo] spoke earlier that was incorrect. She said that there was no space. But we have a phase II program, that has a relationship with Medgar, and we have the physical designated land space at Medgar Evers College,” said Fairweather.
The Medgar Evers College Phase II program is an updated Master Plan for guiding facility development and revitalization on the historical campus. According to plans released last year, the projects planning and design phases include upgrades on an old and vacant building on Carroll street designated for the college’s athletic department. The plan is set to be completed by 2021.
Though, Grillo is unaware of any additional facility space on the campus going back almost 20 years, she did offer to personally visit the MECPS campus to review the sites potential for expansion.
“I have offered to do and what I will do, is visit the site myself, sit down with the group and talk about how we can work this out and if there is in fact an opportunity to work with CUNY,” said Grillo.
The following parents, went on to question the mayor on why MECPS was only being targeted for admission changes when it has been an academically successful school with proven results, sending students to Ivy League colleges like Princeton and Yale.
MECPS PTA President Norelda Cotterel specifically asked de Blasio about his role in the new admission requirement changes, questioning his position on the issue.
“We are not a failing school, however, the Department of Education (DOE) plans on changing our admission process and realign our curriculum. What can you do to prevent the DOE from dismantling a highly successful school?” asked Cotterell.
De Blasio reassured Cotterell and parents in the audience that the school’s academic program would not be dismantled and reiterated the DOE’s position, that the admission changes are minor.
“We would never do anything to undermine a school that is succeeding.We are taking the beginning of the admissions process, which is for 20 or 30 schools in the city that are similar and are all individualized right now and we are trying to get everyone on a universal footing on how you apply to begin with,” said de Blasio.
“I have personally gone over this with the deputy Chancellor in charge of admissions, this isn’t going to change how students are selected for the school. Rest assured that the outcome for the school and the school will be protected. That is coming from me, I am convinced that is the case,” added de Blasio.
MECPS is the only school currently targeted for these changes. However, the DOE has publicly stated that they plan on having all schools with a specialized admission process within the centralized system within the coming years.
Charisse Smith, mother of a 9th grader at the school, asked the mayor why instead of making changes to the 16-year-old institution he doesn’t want to replicate the success of the school in other neighborhoods.
“Can there be a plan put in place to replicate the successful academic model practiced and created by MECPS, to ensure that all students have access to the same quality of education?” asked Smith
De Blasio answered with a vague response stating that the city constantly looks for educational models that work and puts resources into replicating successful models. Additionally, he personally invited MECPS teachers and parents to have a conversation with city educational officials on replicating the school.
In all the Mayor received 5 questions throughout the night about the admission changes and even applauded the effort of the Crown Heights community in voicing their concerns.
“I admire the Medgar Evers team for spreading out very wisely. It is a great school and an important topic” said de Blasio.
Also in attendance to support the MECPS parents and students were Public Advocate Letitia James and Crown Heights lawmakers State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson were all in attendance at the event.