Turnaround proposals submitted for eight Queens high schools


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com |


Video and sketch courtesy of NYPD

Elected officials are refusing to “turn” the other cheek on the city’s plan to overhaul a number of high schools throughout the borough.

The Department of Education (DOE) has submitted proposals to Turnaround eight high schools – Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City, Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams – resulting in the closure of the school at the end of the academic year and its reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012, along with the replacement of 50 percent of the faculty.

In total, 33 schools across the city have been designated for the Turnaround model, but each current student will be guaranteed a seat in their reopened school.

Local leaders, parents and teachers have all expressed outrage over the DOE’s plans, emphasizing the destructive influence this will have on students.

“This is a slap in the face to all of the teachers and students who have been working hard to keep [these schools] on the road towards greatness,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a graduate of Bryant High School. “I think pulling the plug is the wrong way to go. The students feel pride in their school, and if you close it, you are saying it is a failure. I think that’s the wrong message.”

Van Bramer, who called the city’s tactics “draconian,” also noted that a new principal was installed in Bryant in September, giving the leader less than a year at the school.

Other legislators have argued that politics should be left out of the classroom.

“The DOE should realize this proposal does not factor how such an extreme overhaul of Bryant and L.I.C high schools would affect attending students and how they learn,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “Children’s education should supersede political posturing.”

DOE officials said the city lost significant federal funding when an agreement on teacher evaluations could not be reached with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

By deciding to Turnaround the schools – a program which does not require teacher evaluations – the city can apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

“When we did not get an agreement with the UFT by January, we lost out on money from the state,” said DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas. “That’s one of the reasons behind this – we want to try to salvage as much of those funds as possible. We also see this as an opportunity for these schools to get better, improve their culture, improve their school program, improve their staff and become much better schools.”

The DOE’s proposal will be voted on by the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), a committee composed of 13 members assigned by the five borough presidents and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on April 26.

According to Thomas, if the Turnaround proposal is approved by PEP, the department plans to move forward regardless of funding.

“This is being done because of the mayor’s ego, and not because of any inability of the UFT to negotiate,” said Ken Achiron, the UFT chapter leader of L.I.C. “The mayor walked away from the table and refused to negotiate. I think this is a disaster for the children and school system. This mayor is doing more damage than the fiscal crisis of 1975.”

Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C. for 16 years, believes the plan has hurt students and educators alike.

“I think this will severely disrupt the students’ education,” she said. “If the goal is to improve education, this is the worst thing they can do. Teacher morale is low, and it should be clear that Bloomberg is trying to remove teachers.”