Students, staff and parents packed the auditorium in Grover Cleveland High School for a hearing on the future of the school on Monday, April 2.
Grover Cleveland is being considered for the “turnaround” method, which would give the building a new name and eliminate 50 percent of its 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.
Currently, Grover Cleveland’s graduation rate is at 58 percent, 5 percent below the city average.
But speakers in the public comment period of the hearing said the school is not being considered fairly by the city.
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.
In addition, Grover Cleveland is one of nine test sites in the city for iZone – a program that lets students perform their studies any time, any where.
Students also work with the community, holding music concerts at a local senior center and hosting holiday events, such as a haunted house, speakers said, adding that if the turnaround method is implemented, the school could lose its plant science program, its music instruction and other services.
Alumni also attended the hearing, including Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, class of 1976, and the Queens representative on the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who also graduated from Grover Cleveland, as did his mother.
Deputy Schools Chancellor Mark Sternberg stressed before the public comment period that the Education Department wants to help the school, not hurt it.
“It comes from a place of wanting to help our students,” he said of the turnaround proposal. “The structures and the staff that come with a new school can more quickly accelerate the pace of reform.”
In addition, he said, under the turnaround model, the school would receive upwards of $2 million in federal funding for reform programs.
But Nolan, who was wearing the school pin she saved from when she graduated Grover Cleveland, said she worked in Albany to help secure funding for the school under the restart model last year.
“I did not sponsor this so my high school could be closed,” she said.
In addition, Nolan added that the school operated under the restart model until the city struggled to reach an agreement over teacher evaluations, and then the turnaround model was proposed.
“I am deeply concerned about the effect this sudden change in course will have on the students at Grover Cleveland High School,” Nolan said. “Even just the announcement of the possible closing has probably done damage to the school’s future prospects.”
Master English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher Maria Rozos 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.
She said it takes a second-language learner five to seven years to acquire academic-level English.
“However, the ESL students are held to the same standard as the mainstream native-English speakers and are expected to graduate in four years even though this goes against language theory and research,” Rozos said.
“As a school, we work tirelessly to prepare our ESL students for college and careers,” she added, citing multiple grants and programs the school received.
In addition, she said six out of seven of the last school valedictorians were did not speak English as their first language.
Selena Vasquez, a 10th grader at Grover Cleveland, said she and her peers want to go to college and get careers, which they are striving for under the instruction of their teachers.
“Many of the students that attend or have attended Grover Cleveland High School have formed great relationships with current staff and grown to trust them,” she said, giving examples of her favorite teachers.
“The staff in the school should not be penalized for something that is not their fault,” Vasquez added. “The teachers don’t have control over the students’ decisions and it’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their child is going to school and passing.”
Further comments and questions about the proposal can be sent to [email protected], and calls can be made to 212-374-7621. An analysis of the public comment and question-and-answer session at Monday’s hearing will be available online before the PEP votes on the proposal on April 26.