EarlyLearn Wipes Out 60 Years of Highbridge Nursery School Education
October 1, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
Highbridge Nursery School teacher Linda Peterson finds it hard to describe the way she felt this week watching movers methodically disassembling her classroom, removing furniture, carrying off games and puzzles – all “while the children were taking naps.”
“They didn’t tell us anything,” Peterson told LaborPress the night before the school where she has taught for 26 years was slated to be shut down. “They just came in smiling in our faces, not telling us that they didn’t even put in an RFP for us.”
Peterson was alluding to Leakes & Watts – sponsors of the Highbridge Nursery School in the Bronx – the non-profit that the Administration for Children’s Services says never filed a Request For Proposals that ostensibly would have given it a shot at surviving under Mayor Bloomberg’s new cost-cutting EarlyLearn model.
The sponsors will continue operating two other programs in the borough when EarlyLearn is scheduled to kick in on October 1. But Highbridge Nursery School – the 60-year-old learning center located inside the Sedgwick Housing Projects at 1531 University Avenue – will not be one of them.
“We want everyone in the City of New York to know that what Mayor Bloomberg has said about putting money back into early childhood programs is not correct,” said Highbridge Nursery School teacher Brenda Moore. “Over 115 daycares have been closed. There’s no room in the Department of Education for these children. He’s initiating this program called EarlyLearn which is only hurting the children in working class and poor neighborhoods.”
Moore has been teaching at the Highbridge Nursery School even longer than Peterson – 32 years. Still, the DC1707 member said she hadn’t planned on retiring for another five years. Now, she’s not sure what she’ll do.
“I’ve been here since I was 22,” Moore said. “Eventually, I will look for another job. I just have to get over this right now. There are a lot of things I want to do. But I don’t know if I want to go back into the early childhood field. It’s too much of a let down.”
Peterson began working at Highbridge Nursery School as a teacher’s aide when she was still studying to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Today, the dedicated professional feels like she and the rest of the Highbridge staff have been “kicked to the curb.”
“I now do not have medical coverage,” Peterson said. “I Don’t even know when we’re going to get paid our vacation time. I hate to tell you how many sick days I have. We’re up in the air. We had no idea this was coming.”
According to the teachers, neither they nor the parents of the children in their care, learned of the Highbridge Nursery Center’s impending demise until August 31. Since then, they have rallied and organized a petition with hundreds of signatures in hopes of forestalling the scheduled closure.
“We have parents that were fortunate enough to be able to put their children in other daycares, but their children are not comfortable,” Moore said. “They’re crying. But we can’t do anything. They never told us formerly, or informally that we were going to close until August 31.”
Moore, however, maintains that Leakes & Watts should have informed the Highbridge staff of its plans to bow out of EarlyLearn’s RFP process.
“We could have known as early as June,” said Moore. “We would have been better prepared to help our children move more easily into another daycare program. But they waited until the last minute. It was disrespectful throughout the whole process.”
While teachers at the Highbridge Nursery School feel they have been disrespected, other program leaders from other parts of the city ousted after decades of successful operation, say that they have been cheated, and that the entire RFP scoring process is fixed.
After 26 years of uninterrupted employment, Peterson suddenly finds herself confronted with things she never before dreamed she’s have to contemplate – unemployment and food stamps.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get that or how it’s going to work,” Peterson says. “This is a whole new thing for me. It’s the first time I’ve been ever laid-off from a job.”
The last time teachers at the Highbridge Nursery School had a raise was back in 2005.
“The city does not know what’s going with EarlyLearn,” Moore says. “They say it’s better – but it’s not better. It’s hurting a lot of families.”