New schools chancellor and former Hearst executive Cathie Black had to expect a tough crowd at her first Panel for Educational Policy meeting in Fort Greene last night. Brooklyn blogs have been roiling over plans to address funding issues at Park Slope's John Jay High School, which is attended mostly by minority students from outside the neighborhood, by cramming an "elite" school, modeled after Manhattan's prestigious, largely white Millennium High School, into the building. The proposal lead more than one resident to wonder if John Jay was about to go apartheid with funding going to a separate school that catered to white students rather than being invested in John Jay's existing mold-, asbestos-, and minority-filled classrooms. Despite pleas for civility (wait, are we still trying to do that?), the crowd jeered and booed Black as she tried to get through her four-minute prepared speech (Mayor Bloomberg's name elicited a few more). But it only got worse from there.
Before the panel even issued its vote — the measure to bring Millennium to John Jay passed with ten votes in favor and none opposed — parents waved condoms in the air to reference her ill-advised quip that birth control might be a handy overcrowding solution for Manhattan's schools. But the protests didn't just come from the parents.
In a rare example of a principal speaking out publicly against department policy, Jill Bloomberg, of Secondary School for Research, said that the placement of Millennium Brooklyn was an example of putting the interests of upper income white families above those of low-income families of color.
When she went a few seconds over her allotted time, the panel turned off the sound on Bloomberg's microphone. She finished her speech by shouting and led the crowd in a chant, "Integration, yes; segregation, no."
Even children were swept up in the furor. Addressing the notion that Millennium will help Park Slope parents whose kids are edged out of competitive Manhattan public schools at the expense of existing minority students, Kwaesi Laguer, an 11th grader on campus said, "You are saying that our school isn't good enough for Park Slope residents. Why don't you use the money to help make our schools better?"
Black began her speech with rare praise for the panel, which GothamSchools says "has been belittled as a rubber stamp to the mayor by some and as an opportunity for political theater by others.” Impromptu theater, public chanting, comedy routines — no one can say she's not trying to keep things entertaining.
*This post has been updated for clarification.