School’s out forever: City closes Clinton Hill’s MS 103

School’s out forever: City closes Clinton Hill’s MS 103
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet

Teachers in Clinton Hill are furious that the city will close their Gates Avenue middle school and replace it with a brand new middle school — claiming the Department of Education allowed them to fail instead of answering their pleas for help.

A city panel voted 9 to 4 on Thursday night to begin phasing out MS 103 near Downing Street and instead create a new school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders called MS 351, which will take its place in the building it shares with the elementary school PS 56.

Officials cited MS 103’s inability to turn around its poor grades, low attendance and lack of safety, but parents say the city never gave their school a fighting chance by failing to provide the administrative support it needed.

“We don’t deserve what we’re getting,” said PTA member Monique Small. “Other schools are in much worse condition than we’re in.”

The decision came during a chaotic night of school closure votes at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, where the Department of Education panel determined the fate of 23 other city schools as United Federation of Teachers demonstrators and their supporters booed and chanted “All day, all week, occupy the DOE!” and “Boycott Walcott!” — referring to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

City officials spared the Clinton Hill middle school Kappa VII from the chopping block, saying that the struggling middle school was likely to improve, but argued that MS 103 was dysfunctional to the point of no return.

“Parents are crying out for better options and this isn’t good enough,” said the city’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky. “This is about building something new from the ground up.”

Department of Education officials said it’s often wiser to start from scratch than try to mend a broken school.

“It’s not always our belief that helping a school externally will do anything,” said spokesman Frank Thomas. “Often you’ll need a new program and school culture.”

MS 103, also known as Satellite Three, dropped in its school progress reports from a B in 2008-09 to a C the next year, followed by a D in 2010-11.

Only 19 percent of students performed at grade level in English during the last school year, and 34 percent were at grade level in math, according to city data.

Parents say that the problems started in 2010, when former principal Kenyette Reid quit to open his own all boys’ school and the staff were left without a transition plan and a new school leader.

Since Reid’s departure, MS 103 has juggled through three different principals, including Ronald Wells, who critics claim alienated teachers and the community, and Beatrice Thompson, who took the job in September.

“I and many other parents called 311, we asked for help, and no one gave it to us,” Small said.

But Education officials said MS 103 was given enough coaching and curriculum support before the city launched its plan to close the school last fall.

Teachers, administrators and parents devised a reform program intended to save the school, but were shot down by the Department of Education.

Critics say the school’s failure is unsurprising, considering the city’s push to close other low-performing institutions.

“This is a travesty,” said Benjamin Greene, president of the Community Education Council for District 13, which includes Clinton Hill. “We’ve been playing Russian Roulette with principals and yet the only solution is to close schools, not save them.”

Current MS 103 students will graduate over the next two years, but the school will stop accepting incoming sixth graders, the panel ruled.