I made the following statement, facing the parents in the audience, which required me to turn my back on the Chancellor's panel (no disrespect intended).
Statement for Hearing on NYC Dept. of Education Contracts for Excellence
Millennium High School
75 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004
Good evening parents, students and colleagues. My name is John Elfrank-Dana. I am a social studies teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School, UFT Chapter Leader, Adjunct Professor at Fordham University and Carnegie Scholar. I am here tonight as a matter of conscience. I am here because I believe the success of the public school system is essential to preserving and extending our democratic society. And I am here especially because I am concerned your children are being systematically disenfranchised.
I came to teach at Murry Bergtraum in 1986. What I saw there was a vibrant educational community; a community to which I was hoping to send my own children some day. However, I am sad to report to you that it is no longer the case. My own children now attend school in a suburban district with class sizes of twenty-five or fewer students in buildings not over-crowded. My children, as did the children of many of the corporate bureaucrats who now run this City’s education system, have an educational advantage over my students at Bergtraum. This disparity is immoral and undemocratic.
The result of this injustice has landed Bergtraum on the No Child Left Behind’s hit list of failing schools. Once a model school, recognized nationally for its business program, Bergtraum is now a holding pen for large numbers of students the DOE doesn’t know what to do with as a result of the its rushed and reckless move to create small schools. As a result of this imposed injustice on our school we are required to take corrective action. We are told to evolve into a complex of “Small” Learning Communities. At Bergtraum we are taking on this challenge full steam. However, the prospect of successfully carrying out the required cultural change is not auspicious, as we are a school of 3500+ students and staff, in a building designed for 2400, with class sizes remaining at 34 and hallways swelling with students in the heart of a three-session school day. The term “small” is meaningless for us.
At Murry Bergtraum we demand a chance to succeed. The Mayor is obligated to provide the means for us to do so. The overcrowding must stop and class sizes must be brought down to levels comparable to surrounding suburban districts. We parents, students and educators, must continue to combine forces and mobilize using the methods of the great civil rights struggle against the corporatization of the school system. Over-sized classes are one component of a broader injustice taking place in our school system. It’s class size reduction that is the first and essential step in wresting control away from Mayoral tyranny over our schools and brining the “public” back into public education here in New York City.