In the past year, August Martin High School has been entered into the city’s restart program, lost a principal and twice been placed on the list of schools to close, which had many community leaders asking why their high school was being targeted.
“This is not about the progress of August Martin; this is political,” said Rona Freiser, a Queens United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representative and teacher at the school for 28 years, at a rally. “[Mayor Michael Bloomberg] is vengeful.”
August Martin is one of 26 high schools on the list for Turnaround. The Department of Education (DOE) held a public hearing at the school on Monday, April 16 to allow for community input on the proposed closure.
“The DOE does not listen. This [hearing] is just to make it legal,” said State Senator Shirley Huntley. “It is part of the process, the process to destroy our children.”
If the Jamaica school is turned around, it would close and reopen under a new name. The students at the school would be guaranteed a spot and half the teachers would possibly be replaced.
“Schools always need to be made better, but you need resources,” said Huntley. “When you close a school and reopen it, you spend more money than if you just give the schools the resources and let it function.”
The high school was entered into the restart program in September, which qualified it for School Improvement Grants (SIG), but because the UFT and DOE failed to come to an agreement on teacher evaluations, the money dried up and put August Martin in line for Turnaround.
The restart model is meant for schools to receive support to improve and not be closed.
Had the two sides reached an agreement, the school would have continued its course in the restart program, a DOE spokesperson said.
“There is no educational justification for closing down this school. And it’s not just that the school has a graduation rate better than the average in the city,” said Leo Casey, the UFT vice president for high schools.
The school’s graduation rate has improved from 49 percent in 2009 to 67 percent last year; the city-wide average was 65 percent. The school received a “D” on its most recent progress report.
“It takes a community to raise a child and one bad mayor to destroy that same child,” said Councilmember Ruben Wills.
Anthony Cromer, August Martin’s former principal, resigned on Thursday, April 5, though many involved in the school say he was forced out.
“[Cromer] should have had the chance to leave the school with dignity, instead he was led out,” said Assemblymember Vivian Cook, who said she was told by Cromer that he did not want to step down.
Gillian Smith was installed as the school’s principal and DOE Deputy Chancellor March Steinberg said she would be the proposed leader of the new school.
“How do you expect the school to grow when you do that to a principal and expect the kids to care anymore?” asked Cleavon Evans, president of the August Martin Alumni Association.
Many students broke down at the sight of their principal being led away, said the school’s parent-teacher-student association president, Jose Ferruzola.
“It was traumatic to see their principal taken out like a criminal.”
The final vote on the school’s future is scheduled for April 26.