ON FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, A REDUCED KHALIL GIBRAN FACES CHALLENGES:
Lack of Commitment by DOE, Complete Turnover of Founding Teachers and Questions of Leadership
NEW YORK — This week, New York City’s first dual language Arabic school, Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), opens without its full Arabic language instruction, effective leadership, or any of its five original teachers or its social worker.
The Department of Education’s (DOE’s ) process of abandoning KGIA’s original mission
began last year when the Mayor, along with the Department of Education and New Visions for
Public Schools, a partner agency that develops small new schools, forced the founding
principal to resign from her position because of a racist anti-Arab smear campaign organized by right-wing interest groups.
Recently, the Department of Education reneged on its original commitment to continuing KGIA as a 6th – 12th grade program and has not made a commitment beyond grades 6 through 8. This change dramatically weakens the mission of the academy and makes it impossible for it to be a successful dual language program. The school’s plan had been structured around a rigorous 6th through 12th grade academic program encompassing cross cultural understanding and strong Arabic language skills.
The number of required hours of Arabic instruction has also been reduced significantly. The Department of Education recently cut the school’s Arabic language program from five to three days per week, removing a fundamental branch of the school’s curriculum. The language immersion program had originally been designed to provide daily Arabic instruction in order to equip students with fluency in a second language.
Although the school had been formerly situated near the Atlantic/Pacific train stop in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, this Tuesday it will open at 50 Navy Street at the edge of Fort Greene, far from the borough’s Arab-American community and subway stations. The city decided to move the school without parent
consultation or involvement. Not until after the school year ended were KGIA parents finally able to
voice this and other concerns in a meeting with the DOE and New Visions, though their concerns were dismissed.
In a public letter sent by KGIA parents to the Mayor and Schools Chancellor, parents said the newly appointed principal to KGIA was not exhibiting leadership or commitment to the school’s mission and was excluding parents from the decision making process: “Under the current leadership, we have little faith that this will ever be the school we want for our children. We are calling on the Department of Education to provide our school with better resources and leadership to educate our children. We want the school we were promised—the one envisioned and created by founding principal Debbie Almontaser. Our children deserve no less than that,” the letter said.
Since May, all five of the school’s teachers and its social worker have left or been pushed out. The DOE has failed in providing support to the school, its staff or parents, creating an unstable learning environment for students.
Parents Withdraw Children
An inaccessible location for KGIA students paired with neglected parent concerns and little commitment to the school’s original vision and mission has led to many parents withdrawing their children from the program. In a statement made during the school year, Muhammed Shahadat, whose child went to KGIA this past year, said: “One of the reasons I had sent my child to KGIA was because I wanted her to go to a school where parents had a voice. Before the school opened, we were told that parents would be welcome to visit their children’s classrooms.” However, parents were not allowed into classrooms, and at least one parent who spoke out about issues within the school was prohibited by security from entering the facility.
KGIA opened last September with its founding principal Debbie Almontaser pushed out of the picture. The DOE forced Ms. Almontaser to resign after a series of religious and ethnically-charged attacks by right wing fringe groups and the New York Post. The school has since undergone two replacement principals, neither of whom are closely involved with the communities they are serving.
Following Ms. Almontaser’s forced resignation, the school underwent a principal selection process that excluded Almontaser and two other qualified Arab-American candidates from interviewing for the position.
What has happened at KGIA is a clear example of the impact that Mayoral control of NYC schools has had in marginalizing parents, educators and community members from decision-making that affects their children.
Since Ms. Almontaser was ousted, a coalition of Brooklyn and Manhattan-based organizations formed in response to the DOE’s biased policies. “The DOE and its partners at New Visions may have expected that people would be outraged for a short time and that everything would go back to normal. But with this kind of injustice, it’s essential to continue demanding accountability,” said Adem Carroll, a member of the Muslim Consultative Network, one of the sponsoring groups of the Coalition in Support of KGIA. Hundreds of signatures have been gathered on several petitions defending the school and the former Principal (see www.kgia.wordpress.com).
Along with Mr. Carroll’s organization, members of the coalition include Brooklyn for Peace, Center for Immigrant Families, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition and Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, along with many parents, teachers and community members.
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“For those of us working in the field of education, the treatment of Debbie Almontaser represents a threat not only to our rights as educators and citizens in a democratic society; it is also an attack on the small-schools movement and on the push for diversity and equity within our system of public education. Will bigotry be allowed to decide which public schools can exist and who can lead them?”
(Letter to Mayor and Chancellor signed by leading educators across the country, including Lisa Delpit, Michelle Fine, Maxine Greene, Paula Hajar, Susan Klonsky, Mike Klonsky, Carol Lee, Deborah Meier, Pedro Noguera and many others.)
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