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DeWitt Clinton – early engagement

December 7, 2012 pm31 9:21 pm

Thursday the Department of Education dragged itself (two representatives) to Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx – to plan the closure of DeWitt Clinton HS. Of course, this is early engagement – they did not announce their intent. But we knew. We all knew.

Early in the week I thought – and most of Clinton thought – that this would be the joint hearing, the spectacle at which a Deputy Superintendent would listen – or pretend to listen – and then announce the closure. But bad info. By the time we found out it was early engagement, many teachers were already planning to attend, some students still wanted to come, and it was not possible to uninvite alumni who had already committed. This accounted for a relatively high turnout (over half of their huge auditorium, only a handful in the balcony) disproportionate to the (relative un-)importance of the event.

Of course, full mobilization will dwarf Thursday night. DeWitt Clinton has been an institution, in the rock-solid sense, in this neighborhood in the Bronx for a century. The social, personal, and institutional connections are myriad. The alumni is active and engaged. It includes rockstars (some of those too, but I mean famous people) who will be drawn by the actual joint hearing, including alumni from previous generations, who lend a different voice, and additional gravitas, to the pushback. And I believe Clinton has impressive political connections (only one politician spoke Thursday – Oliver Koppell, but, you know, “Early Engagement”). The UFT has not always done a great job mobilizing from neighboring schools – this time should be different.

It is the last large high school, untouched, in the Bronx. And despite “we’re hear to listen” we know what the DoE is up to. Every activist, every semi-activist, every teacher in a nearby school, we all should be ready, when the moment comes (think – January) to show up, and lend our bodies and our voices.

More about why another time.

Now, that balcony. Mostly empty. Thursday.

One day back in February or March 1997, I got a call from DeWitt Clinton High School. I had a freshly printed OCPD license OPDC (occasional per diem certificate – means I was legal to sub). This was my very first assignment. I came into the office, got sent to math on the second floor, and the departmental assist gave me a program. My first class (was it second period?) I was to move from a computer lab in the tower, down to the balcony of the auditorium, and just sit with the kids. Sub with computer equipment? Not a great idea – thus the move. I met ten kids by the room in the tower. I walked them to the balcony, and entered, and noticed I only had one kid left with me. “Mister, I’m going…” I sat very still, pondering the complete failure of my very first assignment…

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