After months of protests, hearings and community meetings residents held to fight to keep their local high schools open, Bushwick Community and Grover Cleveland high schools were taken off the Education Department’s list for potential closures, just hours before a panel was set to vote on them.
The schools were being considered for the “turnaround” method, which would give the buildings new names and eliminate 50 percent of their staff come September. Schools are slated for turnaround when they’ve been on the state’s Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) list, meaning graduation rates were below 60 percent, for the last three years.
The Education Department (DOE)’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voted on whether to turnaround the remaining schools on the list at a meeting on Thursday, April 26th at the Prospect Heights Campus at 883 Classon Avenue in Brooklyn.
Communities across the city have fought the turnaround method for months, with teachers potentially losing their jobs, students losing favored staff and school names reflected in alma matters spanning back through family generations potentially changed.
But DOE representatives argue that the turnaround model is intended to help schools by speeding up the pace of improvement, particularly since those that enter the program would receive upwards of $2 million in federal funding for reform initiatives.
Bushwick High School was put on the turnaround list last year also, but the community fought successfully to keep it open.
The school serves many 17 to 21-year-olds who struggle to graduate, but State Senator Martin Dilan said the students to care about their educations.
He said the school has small class sizes and one-on-one educational opportunities tailored to help struggling students.
“This school and it’s programs are tailored to students that have not excelled in traditional classrooms and curriculum,” Dilan said in a statement after the school was taken off the turnaround list. “This school offers a second chance and any success, no matter how small, is worth fighting for.”
Over at Grover Cleveland, parents, staff and students held protests at 7 a.m., bombarded the school’s PEP hearing with opposition, and dominated local civic meetings with their concerns.
The school, which started the 2011/12 school year under the federal restart model, got a new principal midway through September and therefore did not get the chance to prove its ability for success yet, they argued.
Staff said the school’s graduation rates are low in part because many students don’t speak the language when they enter the school, and sometimes are illiterate in their native tongues.
After the school was removed from the turnaround list Thursday morning, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who graduated from Grover Cleveland in 1979, and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s PEP representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj, class of 1984, released a joint statement thanking DOE for its decision.
“The have recognized the strength and improvement under Principal Denise Vittor and all the excellence that the Grover Cleveland community offers,” the representatives said.
However, they added, “we continue to express our opposition and concern with the proposed turnaround model and we urge the city to drop their quest to close all these schools, especially the large comprehensive Queens high schools.”