from Juan Gonzalez at the daily news on July 3, 2009 and ednotes online from July 4th
Classrooms being packed up without teachers or principals knowledge at P.S. 123 in Harlem.
No one was expecting the moving men when they arrived Thursday morning at PS 123 in Harlem. Not Principal Beverly Lewis, nor any of her staff, nor any of the school's parent leaders. "These strangers suddenly appeared, went up to the third floor, removed the cylinder locks from a bunch of classroom doors and started moving out all the furniture and computers, and piling everything up in the gym," said one teacher who was conducting a summer school class when the men arrived. The tense confrontation that followed reveals why Harlem has become Ground Zero in a growing neighborhood resistance to mayoral control of schools. It is a wakeup call to the politicians in Albany not to give Mayor Bloomberg a blank check to run roughshod over parents and teachers. The moving men claimed they had orders to empty and refurbish all the school's third-floor rooms to make way for an expansion of the Harlem Success Academy.
That's the charter school operation run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. The same one Schools Chancellor Joel Klein routinely praises as Exhibit A for educational reform. Moskowtiz's program currently uses a few third-floor rooms at the school.
The teachers at Public School 123 are no ordinary bunch. They and the parents have opposed the unilateral decision Klein made in May to turn over more of their valuable classroom space to Harlem Success. Theirs is not a failing school and they were told talks were continuing over how to divide the space. They saw the sudden arrival of the workmen Thursday as a signal that the discussion was over. So several of them rushed upstairs to confront the strangers, blocked the doorways and occupied the rooms.
"I told them, you're not taking my books and furniture out of here," said one teacher.
Police were called in. After an hour-long standoff, an official from school headquarters called to say that no one had authorized Moskowitz's movers to be in the school. The workmen then vacated the building, leaving furniture and boxes strewn in the hallways and piled high in a corner of the gym. Afterward, Harlem leaders labeled it a sneak attack. "This is mayoral control run amok," said State Sen. Bill Perkins. "Eva Moskowitz has been treated with such privilege by the mayor and Joel Klein, she acts as if she doesn't need any authorization to do things." "We had an agreement with DOE that no construction is to begin in the school until there is another meeting with all sides to work out space needs," said a spokeswoman for City Councilwoman Inez Dickens. DOE officials conceded there was a "mistake in communications." "As soon as we were made aware of the situation today, we told the charter school to stop," DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer said. Moskowitz denies impropriety. "There is a space allocation agreement that the DOE has clearly, repeatedly, consistently and in writing said would become effective on July1," Moskowitz said. The renovations of the new rooms for Harlem Success can't be delayed, she said, because classes at her school begin on Aug. 12 - weeks earlier than the regular public schools. "Dr. Lewis and the [teachers' union] are deliberately taking steps to prevent us from renovating these rooms," Moskowitz said. Lewis declined to comment. Bloomberg recently made some bizarre remarks about possible "riots in the streets" if Albany doesn't renew mayoral control. Well, the teachers and parents at PS 123 sent a very different message Thursday: In Harlem and all over this city, parents and teachers are getting fed up with mayoral dictatorship.