After more than 100 years of reading, writing and arithmetic, Flushing High School now faces its toughest test of all.
Legislators and education advocates gathered in front of the school to protest a possible Turnaround, which would effectively eliminate Flushing High School as it is currently constituted.
“Over the past few years, Flushing High School has improved,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky at the protest on February 24. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but closing the school and replacing the principal and staff with multiple layers of educational bureaucracy is not the solution.”
Stavisky, who worked as a substitute teacher at the school before her election to the State Senate, was joined by Assemblymember Grace Meng and Councilmember Peter Koo, as well as representatives for the school, the United Federal of Teachers (UFT) and the NAACP.
The protest was sparked after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to replace about half of the teaching staff at the 33 city schools, including eight in Queens, identified as struggling by the state. These 33 schools are in a federal improvement program because of low test scores and graduation rates.
A spokesperson representing UFT president Michael Mulgrew said that Bloomberg’s push for Turnaround stems from a disagreement between the mayor and the teacher organization.
“We are here today in support of not only Flushing High School, but all the schools the mayor is holding hostage,” Mulgrew’s spokesperson said. “It is time the mayor put our children and our school’s first, and end the political grandstanding that has now gone on for far too long.”
Flushing High School, and the other 32 schools listed for closure, had recently received the OK from the Department of Education (DOE) to implement reform models aimed at reversing troubling trends. According to the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators Ernest Logan, the DOE isn’t giving these reforms the time to take hold and make a difference.
“All of these schools, including Flushing, had rather recently embarked on new reform models with the blessing of the NYC DOE,” said Logan. “For the DOE to now abruptly reject those schools’ efforts, without examination of their progress, is arbitrary, capricious and insensitive to children and families.”
DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas said that Flushing High School received a “D” on its most recent progress report, with an “F” on the student performance section. He also said that graduation rates at schools serving similar populations are significantly higher than at Flushing.
“We understand the passionate feelings these issues evoke on all sides, but these proposals represent an opportunity to provide our families with new, high-quality schools that will do better by students, and ultimately that has to be our priority,” said Thomas.
Thomas also said that the DOE cannot afford to let underperforming schools linger while a teacher evaluation deal is hammered out and implemented. He said the turnaround plan keeps the best parts of the existing school, including its highest quality faculty, while creating a new program, new school culture and a different and better environment for students.