Hundreds of staff, parents and students gathered in front of Grover Cleveland High School in Glendale at 7 a.m. last Thursday morning to protest its possible closure due to what the Education Department refers to as a lack of improvement.
Protesters marched around the perimeter of the school, at 21-27 Himrod Street, holding posters denouncing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s educational policies and shouting “save our school,” before locking arms to form a human chain in front of its entrance.
“I want my school to stay open,” said Tatyana Taskova, a music teacher and Grover Cleveland graduate, whose son is currently a senior honors student at the school.
She said the school has a high non-English speaking population, which the staff should be praised for taking on instead of threatened with closure.
“We’re doing a good job, we’re going out of our way to help children and we do get children with a lot of problems,” Taskova said.
“We do a lot more than we are believed to do,” she added. “We’re blamed for something that’s really not our fault and our children are doing the best they can but we just have a lot of issues that need to be resolved in the school.”
According to the Education Department (DOE), graduation rates at Grover Cleveland were at or below 55 percent for the last five years. In addition, the school is named one of the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” schools in the state.
Although DOE currently has no specific plans for Grover Cleveland, options include a turnaround method which would eliminate 50 percent of its staff, possibly including the principal.
The school could be phased out by not accepting new students, helping current students graduate and bringing in a new district or charter school to the building.
According to DOE, bringing in mentor teachers with higher salaries and introducing new education programs are also options.
But staff at the rally said DOE would hire cheaper, less-experienced teachers. If the turnaround method were implemented, the school’s entire staff would have to reapply for their jobs and go through an interview process.
However, the excessed teachers would remain on the city’s payroll, they said. In addition, all students currently enrolled in the school are guaranteed a seat in September, but could have 50 percent less teachers.
“If they’re guaranteeing seats and they’re going to let all the teachers go, what are they going to do with those students?” asked Dorina Barretta, a teacher.
Students want Grover Cleveland to stay open and fully staffed because they love their school, several said as they stood on Metropolitan Avenue chanting and asking passing cars to honk their horns in support.
“When I come back to visit Grover Cleveland, I want to be able to come back to visit my old teachers,” said Vashtee Ragoonanan, a senior. “I don’t want to come back to a different high school.”
She added, “I grew up here.”
Josue Perez, a junior, said more than 1,000 students could have their futures jeopardized if the school closes.
“Despite what people say, it’s a great school,” he said. “Don’t let this happen.”
Perez said Grover Cleveland is the first in his student career to make him feel school spirit. He said its students arrive on time, study and strive to pass their classes.
In addition, the school’s “unity and diversity” motto teaches them tolerance and respect, he said.
“You’ll find a table full of African American kids and West Indian kids and Hispanic kids, sitting together, because kids get along,” Perez said. “Cleveland has to stay together and fight for our school. Let Bloomberg give us a fighting chance.”