About 50 people came out for the second and final COMAR hearing this morning, probably 20 of them system administrators required to attend. I'm sure there were people who decided to stay out and soak up the beautiful morning sun, but some speakers complained that both hearings (Thursday's at Poly, today's at Lake Clifton) were inconvenient for west-side residents. And some said people didn't turn out because they feel as though the decisions are already a done deal. Richard Stasio, a teacher at Dunbar Middle, said building crews are already out at the school preparing for its reconfiguration. Dr. Alonso responded that work has to happen now so the buildings will be ready if the board approves his school reorganization plan on April 28 -- but the board can still decide to change course. Stasio also said his school has been functioning without working heat, so if the system improves the conditions upon a merger with NAF, it's to be expected that student performance will improve.
Linda Jones, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall High, said she wished the system had given the school more support before deciding to close it. "I'm not sure why we never got resources," she said. Jason Kennon, who said he's involved at Lemmel, again warned the board against gang violence with the moves in and out of the Lemmel building (the middle school closing, IBE moving in). "How many of you have seen a drug raid or someone's brains blown out?" he asked the board members, talking about the social problems students are confronting. He said the system should be bringing new curriculum and programs to the children where they are.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke was the only person at either hearing to speak in defense of Paquin, which is slated for merger with the Rising Star alternative school for overage middle school students. Because Paquin is now classified as a program rather than a school, it wasn't technically part of the hearings. Clarke said she came today "not with a lot of hope, but somebody needs to say something... It's a mess and I don't know how it's gonna be fixed." She said Paquin provides a "serene, safe environment" for pregnant girls, teenage moms and their babies, and to put it under the auspices of Rising Star would be "disrespectful."
Alonso uncharacteristically kept to himself for most of the hearing but then unloaded at the end, saying that if the reorganization does not work, "this is my accountability. If it doesn't work, I'm not gonna be around." He said he understands the concerns about gang violence stemming from school transfers are real, but if we accept that certain kids can't go into certain neighborhoods, "we are never going to be a city that works. Never." He reiterated that the plan is about giving families good school choices. "The only people in this city who have been getting choice," he said, "are the middle class and the wealthy and the people who get their kids into the citywide schools."