The city’s plans to add another school within a struggling Queens Village institution is a “knife in the back” to the community, elected officials said.
“This is the wrong plan at the wrong time, in the wrong place, at the wrong school,” said Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik.
The Department of Education (DOE) has proposed adding a small district high school inside Martin Van Buren High School.
The two schools would share the 230-17 Hillside Avenue building — including its gym, cafeteria and auditorium — in a move increasingly known as co-location.
“We’ve been nationally recognized for our visionary new school models, and this new option replicates those that are in extraordinarily high demand across the city,” said DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia.
“This new school will deliver great outcomes for neighborhood students,” Puglia added. “Parents in this community are clamoring for, and will continue to demand, more high quality options, and we’re going to keep delivering them.”
Queens lawmakers say the new school would eliminate 500 existing seats at Van Buren. They were told the DOE is shooting for a 2014 opening, though the city would have to hold a public hearing beforehand.
“Reducing the seats at Martin Van Buren High School is a slap in the face to our community, which has fought to turn around the school,” said Assemblymember David Weprin. “Now is not the time for the outgoing administration to make this kind of destructive decision.”
Van Buren received a C in the DOE’s most recent progress report, which is based on student progress toward graduation, performance on standardized tests, coursework and student attendance. The school improved a full letter grade from the year before.
There is also a new principal, Sam Sochet, who replaced Marilyn Shevell last June. Elected officials said morale and grades have been improving under Sochet.
The school was also acknowledged as “developing” during last year’s DOE evaluation, a step above the failing grade “underdeveloped.”
“What the DOE is proposing could undo all of the progress the administration and teachers have made so far,” said Councilmember Mark Weprin. “Creating a new school will cost millions and may threaten the revitalization of our neighborhood school.”
The councilmember said the community was kept out of the loop during the DOE’s “whisper campaign” to co-locate the school. He said he caught wind of the plans in June.
“In the middle of the night, we get a call saying the DOE is looking to co-locate another school within this building, after all the effort that has been put in to try to fix this school,” he said.
Washington Sanchez, a representative for the United Federation of Teachers, called the move a “sneak co-location.”
“They just want to do it in the heat of the summer, behind closed doors,” he said.
State Senator Tony Avella said the school was on the right track in October 2011 when Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott “did a tour of the school and made all sorts of promises to turn this thing around.”
“Now all of a sudden we get the knife in the back, and that’s what this is,” Avella said. “They’re stabbing us in the back.”
The city’s educational impact statement of the new school is expected to be released late August. Public hearings are likely to be scheduled soon after.
Nearly 3,000 students from ninth to twelfth grade attend Van Buren.
“Changing the school is a big mistake,” said rising senior Harsimranjeet Singh. “There have been a lot of new programs. Grades are going higher now. Progress will decline.”
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