ASSEMBLYMEMBER DAVID WEPRIN
Late last month the Department of Education’s Panel on Educational Policy voted on all co-location proposals. Martin Van Buren High, I.S. 59, August Martin High School, P.S. 40, J.H.S. 226, M.S. 72 and the Corona Arts and Sciences are the schools facing co-location in Queens.
The Department of Education called off its plans to co-locate a new elementary school in the building of P.S. 1 after parents, teachers and elected official spoke out against the proposal. At the Martin Van Buren High School co-location hearing, State Senator Tony Avella, Councilmember Mark Weprin and I along with the parents, teachers, civic leaders, students and community members urged the Department of Education to hold off on their plans to co-locate a new school in the building. However, the Department of Education has ignored our request to meet with them and is instead pushing through with their proposal.
My biggest question is “what’s the rush?”
One of the first issues that needs to be addressed with the proposed co-location at Martin Van Buren High School is the lack of transparency in the process and the reasons the Department of Education is rushing to put in the second school. It seems the Bloomberg administration is rushing these co-locations before the next administration takes office.
The problem lies in that there is a clear disconnect between the Department of Education and the community. Parents, teachers, community leaders and students have only been consulted after the Department of Education issued its proposals. Parents and community members deserve to be informed and have greater involvement in the school’s decision-making process. I call for a more comprehensive and community-based plan in which all members of the community that are impacted by the change are able to be involved in the school Turnaround process. All of the schools dealing with the issue of co-location need to be thoroughly examined to determine if co-locating the school is the best plan for the school to thrive.
The proposed co-location would eliminate 500 seats at Martin Van Buren High School and create a new six-year school that would give students the option to earn two-year degrees from Queensborough Community College. There is no reason why Martin Van Buren High School can’t have this program integrated into the school’s curriculum.
If not well planned, having an additional school in the building can become a costly project that disrupts student learning and limits access to resources and school facilities. Often when schools undergo co-location, one of the schools receives preferential treatment. The issues that can arise from co-location are overcrowding, unsafe hallways, inadequate resources and tensions over sharing space and equipment with the other school in the building. The schools often have to compete for the use of shared areas such as cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums, playgrounds and hallways. The co-located school will take away essential resources from the traditional school, depriving students of school equipment and other resources.
We have seen far too many schools in experience co-location, resulting in underfunded programs, overcrowding classes, and ultimately a spiral of academic decline. Instead of co-locating struggling schools, let’s first discuss the option with the community and invest our time and resources into turning the school around. Martin Van Buren High School is one of the few community comprehensive high schools that provide real choices, with an exciting curriculum for students and the Queensborough Community College partnership program can be incorporated into the school. The students of our city deserve to be provided the best education possible and parents should have the choice for their child to attend one of the last comprehensive high schools in Queens.
Assemblymember David Weprin was elected in a Special Election in 2010. Weprin represents the same district represented by his father, the late Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, for 23 years and his brother Mark Weprin, for over 15 years.