Photo by Bonnie Rosenstock
Principal Mark Federman in the tent he’s been living in for the past week and a half outside East Side Community High School. His effort has spawned a “Tent City” of students and school staff who are camping out with him in a show of support.
Photos by Bonnie Rosenstock
Students Alex, on left, and Jet, second from left, help get out the vote for East Side Community High School in the high-stakes Kohl’s Cares competition.
|Banners, signs and chalked messages outside East Side Community High School, on E. 12th St., urge people to help the school win big bucks by casting their votes on Facebook.
Principal in tent is intent on winning contest cash
By Bonnie Rosenstock
“It’s not exactly how I expected to end my summer vacation,” declared Mark Federman, principal of East Side Community High School.
He was unshaven and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. It was Saturday, Aug. 28, and he had just completed his fifth night of camping out in an alcove next to the school’s 420 E. 12th St. entrance.
What started out as an individual quest by Federman to attract attention and garner votes for Kohl’s Cares $20 million giveaway via Facebook — $500,000 for each of the top 20 vote-getting schools — has evolved into a mini Tent City of support.
“I came up with the tent idea so the neighborhood and community would take it on as their cause and see we are fighting for our kids,” he said.
He began his campout-on-the-concrete campaign on Monday night Aug. 23. The first three nights he was by himself. But then gradually staff and students, with or without family members, joined him, rotating into a group of around 30. Now there are about a half-dozen tents snuggled together. His is unmistakable. It’s the shabby, mustard-colored one with the broken zipper, which he couldn’t close the night before.
“Having others around keeps it a bit more lively for people to come here and vote,” he said. “And the police are watching to make sure we are O.K.”
When a reporter stopped by the urban campsite on Saturday, Federman was seated at his computer, set up on a portable table, checking his school’s status in the department store’s competition. East Side Community High School had inched its way up to number 40.
“When I started over a week and a half ago, you don’t know where you are until you break into the top 100,” he said. “That’s the good news. The not-so-great news is there is only a week left — the contest ends Friday, Sept. 3 at midnight — and the number 20 school is about 30,000 votes ahead of us.” (By this Wednesday, East Side had climbed to 33rd on the list.)
Religious or private schools make up the vast majority of the Kohl’s Cares top 100. Of the top 20 top schools, 18 are religious, with 15 of them Jewish.
“They are part of Chabad and have an incredible source of social networking,” Federman said.
“I assume that Kohl’s wanted to give to schools and get their name out there,” he added. “But what is happening is we are the only urban public school and the only Title I school that has a shot at winning. And we are still way behind.”
East Side Community High School, for grades 6 to 12, now in its 19th year, was established to provide the equivalent of a private school or wealthy suburban college preparatory education for young people in the East Village and surrounding neighborhood. However, kids also come from other boroughs to study here.
Jet, 13, a brunette wisp of a girl who is going into the ninth grade, was at the Tent City on Saturday, sitting at a long table full of laptops, helping people to vote for East Side in the competition. She has been attending the school since sixth grade and travels one hour from Brooklyn “because this is an awesome school. People are amazingly nicer than in my other school,” she said.
She is also camping out.
“Ever since I heard that my principal was sleeping here, I wanted to show my respect,” she said. “I never even had a Facebook account. My mom told me to sign on. I voted and came down here.”
The E. 12th St. school’s makeup is 60 percent Latino, 25 to 30 percent African-American and 10 to 15 percent Asian and white. There are about 600 students, including 250 to 280 in the middle school and 320 to 350 in the high school. There is no test or interview process for admission, but Federman asks that kids and parents e-mail, write a letter or drop by in person and explain why they want to attend the school.
“It’s got to work for both people — like a marriage,” he said.
It’s a unique school, said Federman, 40, who has been principal here for 10 years. Federman, who lives in Park Slope, was previously assistant principal at East Side Community High School for four years and, before that, a teacher at the school.
East Side is one of 35 schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium across New York State, and thereby exempt from Regents exams. Formed in 1997, the consortium opposes high-stakes tests, the “one size fits all” construct. Students at East Side graduate based on a high-performance assessment system, consisting of portfolios, an in-depth paper on history and extensive science research, which are presented to an outside committee and teachers.
“It’s quite rigorous,” stated Federman.
The graduation rate last year was 88 percent for four years, but the school also makes allowances for a five-year graduation “because requirements are so hard,” he said.
The dropout rate is low, and more than 90 percent of the middle school students stay on for the high school. The average class size is between 18 and 24 students.
“It’s hard for kids to fall through the cracks” with small class sizes, he stated.
Seventy-seven graduates from last year earned more than $1 million in college scholarships, with each getting an average of $16,000 per year. They will be attending such schools as Skidmore, Syracuse, New York University, CUNY, SUNY, Michigan State, Connecticut College, Albertus Magnus and Marist — “a nice mix of private and state schools,” Lederman noted.
The principal said the school needs the money “desperately.” His is a lengthy wish list — getting his students access to technology on par with private schools for the academic prep work they provide; expanding the school’s arts program; increasing college access programs, so they can individualize college trips and have funds for overnight hotel stays when they take students by van or bus to visit campuses; field trips around New York City, other cities and abroad, and basic classroom needs.
“We have a strong visual arts program but don’t have a drama program anymore,” Lederman noted. “Our dance program is hanging by a thread. We don’t have a gym.”
Alex, 16, going into 11th grade, added, “I tried to start a lacrosse team last year, and then our sponsor cut out on us. With this money, we could have more language programs, more sports programs and build a better school.”
Federman wishes that the corporation, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Kohl’s Cares philanthropic program, had split the contest into the top 10 public schools and the top 10 private and parochial schools. What upsets him is that not only are the schools atop the standings wealthier, but there are no kids of color, very few high-needs students from low-income backgrounds and, he charged, they are not gay friendly.
“I’m a literacy specialist and do a lot of work with Christian and Jewish schools, and I know,” he said. “The second I bring up gay fiction, I get shut down. I don’t want schools that are homophobic or not inclusive to get the money.”
At East Side Community High School, they have a Gay-Straight Alliance and a lot of curriculum that deals with gay issues.
“We have a 100 percent respect policy where any forms of homophobia, racism or sexism are immediately dealt with through helping kids understand why,” Federman explained. “If there is any kind of slur, you will see kids in the class look at that kid like, ‘That’s not O.K. here’ — and that’s special.
“I feel like we’re not just winning this for East Side. We need New York City to take notice after three years of budget cuts. It’s the issue of the have’s and have not’s.”
Some of the top vote-getters are running radio commercials, and the first-place school in Great Neck, Long Island, is giving away eight iPads.
“If we had 8 iPads to give away, we wouldn’t need to do this,” Federman asserted, the irony noted.
To vote for East Side Community High School, log on to Facebook, then search www.eschs.org . Click on to the school’s home page, then click on “Vote Now.” You can vote up to five times for one school. The contest ends at midnight, Fri., Sept. 3. Winners will be announced toward the end of this month.