Shared Sacrifice: The Colocation of Lehman High School
James McSherry has taught at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx since 1991. The school has been slated to close and re-open with half of the staff. Determined to make sure this does not happen, students, parents and teachers staged a demonstration at a hearing on March 7th, 2012.
Before he became a teacher at Lehman, James McSherry attended the school as a student from 1976 to 1981. The school is one of 33 low performing schools that has been chosen to close and re-open in what is called a turn around model. When the school closes, teachers will have to reapply for their jobs. Only 50 percent will get their jobs back.
The school will be collocated by a charter school. Lehman High School, which was already crowded, will become even more so. Parents, students, and teachers have struggled to keep their school in tact, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
McSherry teaches Film at Lehman. He started a Film program after starting out as an English teacher.
He is also a writer and filmmaker. McSherry made a short film called “Poetry Man” in 2010 that won several awards, including the Audience Choice Award at the Manhattan Film Festival. The film starred Peter Greene and was based on a childhood friend that got mixed up in crime and ended up in prison.
As a life-long Bronx resident, McSherry is all too familiar with the adversity and unfairness kids growing up in underserved neighborhoods have to deal with. McSherry grew up with a bi-polar mother who struggled financially. His father was murdered when he was very young. McSherry saw many friends and people around him die at a young age.
McSherry says collocation will add complication to the lives of kids who have already had it rough.
[OUTSIDE SCHOOL AMBI - FOOTSTEPS]
McSherry: The school itself is in a turn around model, which means – It’s a euphemism for “We’re closing you down and opening you up in a charter school initiative”.
It’s not good for the teachers. It’s not good for the parents, not good for the community and it’s definitely not good for the kids.
And they’re looking to fire all teachers and then re-hire 50 percent of the staff.
[PEOPLES MIC] (I consider this school my second home)
I don’t know if I’m going to reapply for my job. I just feel that it’s like a slap in the face to have to reapply after twenty-something odd years in that school, you know, for a position.
[AMBI FROM INSIDE CAR]
I live in this community. My daughter goes to public school. She might go to Lehman High School in two years. I have a personal investment in this job, more than a job, and in the community, and in my students. And I feel that they’re not getting the proper – [PROTEST NOISE] It’s not a fair and equitable way that they’re being treated, as far as by the administration, by the DOE, by politicians Bloomberg and Cuomo, Chancellor Walcott and before him his predecessor, Chancellor Klein. These people are out of touch with the realities that our students are faced with. And I feel that’s important. It’s an important part of the equation.
Shared sacrifices. When a politician says “Shared sacrifices”, it means bend over, because you’re getting screwed.
James' website: jamesmcsherry.com/
A NYDaily News Article about James: nydailynews.com/news/filmmaker-standing-soon-to-be-closed-school-article-1.1035097
James' IMDB page: imdb.com/name/nm2548176/
Behind the Scenes:
Nabil Rahman, who I shot this with, knew James from school. Nabil had attended Lehman High School, and also later taught there. When he heard about the closing and collocation of the school, he figured James would be the perfect subject to talk to about the issue.
In the first interview we filmed, we had close to two hours of footage. We had an enormous amount of really compelling stories from James' life. As a result, it was extremely hard to compress it into what it is now. It feels like there is so much missing. James has an incredible amount of engaging stories from his 20 years of teaching. One story that particularly stuck out was a tragic story about James finding a young girl who had hung herself in the school bathroom. James then had to tell the mother of the student what had happened. James' life needs feature-length time to do it justice.
(Not necessarily relevant, but part of the journey of filming this:) I got robbed while coming home late on the subway from the Bronx after shooting the first interview, and feel like I can now say I have had the complete New York experience.
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