Threatened Public School Closings in Queens Update

Eight schools in Queens were among the 26 slated for turnaround. The eight schools are August Martin High School in Jamaica, Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Flushing High School, Long Island City High School, William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Newtown High School in Elmhurst, and Richmond Hill High School. If your teen goes to one of these schools, read on to find out what this means for them.

On April 26, the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) was set to vote on whether the slate of schools would be forced to “turnaround.” Hours before the hearing, Grover Cleveland High School was one of two schools to be removed from the list for turnaround. Chancellor Walcott indicated that the Ridgewood school had shown positive signs over the last two years. He also cited that visits to the school and the public hearings in the weeks before had been helpful in the decision. Surely, the political pull of politicians who backed the school, including Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the chairwoman of the Education Committee and an alumna, was very helpful too.

On the night of April 26, the other seven schools’ fate went up for a vote. While the borough reps generally held strong against the mayor’s plan as usual, most Panel members are appointed by the mayor and the PEP has never rejected a city proposal. All seven schools were approved for turnaround. It may not be over. The United Federation of Teachers, which did not make its usual large showing at this hearing, has all but promised to sue the city if they move forward with turnaround. It is unclear what this would mean for the schools.

It is important to know that turnaround is not closure. This plan would help the schools secure federal funding. Under the plan, the schools would close and then reopen over the summer. They’d have new names and part of the staff, including the principal, would be replaced, though not all principals will be replaced. The schools would also be required to re-design the school structure and curriculum. Families should know that current students would be guaranteed spots at the “new” schools.

There is a chance that principals that have been in place less than two years or who were placed at a school as part of an overhaul effort will not be replaced. Half of the Queens schools fall into this category, but several of those schools have already received announcements that their principals will also be replaced. It is important to note that, while the DOE has continued to insist that there is not quota attached to the replacement of staff, new funding for the schools is closely tied to the replacement of 50% of teachers who have been on staff for more than two years.

The eight schools are on the city’s persistently lowest achieving schools list and had originally been slated to improve using a plan called transformation which was to last three years. These plans have been cut short by the mayor in order to get around the failure to reach an agreement with the teachers union about teacher evaluations. This disagreement caused the city to lose significant federal dollars that this new plan would help to gain back. The switch has left New Yorkers feeling a bit confused and disappointed. Some schools claim that they have lost programs since the announcement has been made and that they simply need more time to make improvements.

Critics point out that the chosen schools are all large comprehensive schools that serve disadvantaged students. These schools serve a disproportionate number of English Language Learners, Special Education students, and low-income students. The schools struggle with graduation rates and test scores. Critics also point out that English Language Learners, for example, may take a little longer to graduate and that schools with large numbers should not be penalized for serving their student population. Additionally, the timeline is problematic. If these large schools must re-staff (the original proposal calls for at least 50% of staff to be replaced)and re-design their curriculum over the summer, will there be enough time to fully develop the academic plan and the extracurricular activities by the first day of school? What about student morale?

If your teen is at one of the schools chosen for turnaround, you don’t have to do anything. As we said earlier, current students will be guaranteed a spot at these “new” schools. You can take a few steps to make sure your child stays connected to his or her education and doesn’t miss out.

• Seek out organizations that offer supplementary services such as tutoring and college counseling. Check out Queens Community House and Sunnyside Community Services, for example.
• It is also possible that these “new” schools will not have fully implemented plans for extracurricular activities and advanced course opportunities, when the school year starts. Keep an eye out for free College Now courses at the City University of New York.
• Since there will be staff turnover at turnaround schools, make sure your high school junior requests college recommendations before the school year is over. Get several copies, including an electronic copy if possible and several in sealed envelopes.
• Stay involved in your child’s education. Help him or her make a plan for the rest of high school and help keep it going by checking in often.

Keep your eyes open for more news on this important concern.


By: Sandy Jimenez