Nathalie Elivert Testifies Before the City Council Committee on Education

"I know how difficult it is to acknowledge and accept when something is not working. But allowing it to continue and not replacing it with something better would be a travesty."

Thank you Chairman Jackson and thank you to the Committee for giving me a chance to speak today. My name is Nathalie Elivert and I am the Director of Educator Outreach for StudentsFirstNY.

As a former New York City traditional public school teacher who was in the classroom up until last year, I have experienced first-hand both school closure and co-location. And I can say that these resolutions unfortunately send an ambiguous message to parents and students; particularly those in underserved communities.

I see a quality public education as a critical component to a fair and just society. I think we can all agree on that. Where our views may diverge is in the how.

I do not believe that we can tolerate or ignore the level of dysfunction that I witnessed first-hand at a failing school. To me, these instances do call for aggressive and immediate intervention. Delay is not an option.

Replacing a failing school is by no means easy and can cause confusion in the affected community. However, conditions exist that warrant proposals to phase out schools. In the time between a proposal to phase out a failing school and the decision to close a school, there are opportunities to make needed changes. If communities do not make progress in their efforts to address students’ needs in that time, the only alternative should not be to force kids into what we know is a failing environment. That is something I cannot abide.

In 2012 I spent time in a school that was phasing out. The experience was unexpected but in some ways was a blessing in disguise – giving me a renewed appreciation for and faith in what is possible when educators, parents and students are all invested in making things work.

For four months in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy my school building was unusable. Our students and staff were split between two different schools in two different districts. School administrators had the challenging task of creating programs and schedules under these incredibly difficult circumstances. Students and parents saw their routines completely upended. Educators faced massive challenges as well but everyone did their part; demonstrating a level of resilience that none of us was sure was in us. Granted, all we did was follow through on our commitment – make sure that we show up and that our students learn because we are invested in their greater good.

Unfortunately I was also forced to confront another, more disturbing side of our school system. It didn’t take long for me to see why the school with which we were temporarily co-located had been identified for closure. I saw unmotivated kids, ignored by administrators and educators, left to roam the halls aimlessly. I saw violent incidents go unaddressed because neither the principal nor anyone with appropriate youth development training was available to diffuse the situation or work with the students afterwards.

It was clear that these students were being failed. And any thoughtful adult who observed the situation would agree. I know how difficult it is to acknowledge and accept when something is not working. But allowing it to continue and not replacing it with something better would be a travesty. That is exactly what would happen if we do not make the difficult but right call on this occasion.

Thank you.

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