When the first Jamaica High School was built, residents and community leaders wanted the building to “express refinement, public spirit and taste of that community.” Now, centuries later, the site has been deemed a landmark.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) named the 19th century, Dutch Revival building a landmark on Tuesday, June 25. The commission said the building went up in 1896, when borough residents began to both realize the importance of higher education and enforce education laws.
The Hillside Avenue site originally was home to a combined grammar and high school named P.S. 47. However, the school became overcrowded and the grammar school was moved elsewhere, morphing the building into Jamaica High School. It remained as such until 1927.
The three-story building was designed by William Bunker Tubby, a prominent Brooklyn architect who was known throughout the city for his historic revival style designs, particularly the Pratt Institute library and five Carnegie libraries in Brooklyn.
“The fact that such a distinguished architect was selected to produce a highly original, distinctive building underscored the prosperity and growth of Jamaica,” said LPC Chair Robert Tierney. “It also shows how serious the town was about educating its children.”
Tubby gave the building a distinctive design for Jamaica’s growing population, which is said to have expressed the town’s optimism about its future development. At the time, schools were changing from simple structures to “civic monuments,” said the LPC.
The building’s Dutch Revival style features red and tan bricks. “Unusual” elements of the school include stepped and arched windows as well as a tall, hipped roof accentuated by “witch’s hat” dormers and high chimneys, according to the LPC.
In 1927, Jamaica High School moved out of the building to a new site on Gothic Drive, also a city landmark. The original site became a vocational school, and now serves as the Jamaica Learning Center, an alternative high school.
COMMUNITY SERVICE: Jackie Forrestal has been active in the Queens community for years. She is a board member of the Central Queens Historical Association. She also served on the St. Joseph’s Advisory Board until the facility closed in 2004.
Forrestal is the corresponding secretary for the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, while her husband Kevin is president.
BACKGROUND: A lifelong resident of Queens, Forrestal graduated from Martin Van Buren High School and studied at Queens College.
For decades, Forrestal and her husband have volunteered their time and efforts to help countless organizations.
Last year, she was honored by the Queens Civic Congress with the Queens Civic Award for Outstanding Community Service.
She has also been the recipient of a Woman of Distinction Award from Community Board 8 and was one of 29 women to receive the City Council’s Pacesetter Award in 2006.
FAVORITE MEMORY: Forrestal remembers the day she and her husband moved to Hillcrest Estates.
“In 1974, we moved into our first home on 164th Place as homeowners and were invited by the neighbors to square dance,” she said.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Honestly, my biggest challenge has to be saving Jamaica High School from closure,” she said. “This historic and renowned school should not be closed. The phase-out of Jamaica High School is incredibly unjust and unfair to students.”
INSPIRATION: Out of her love for the Queens community, Forrestal has spent decades fighting to preserve programs and institutions to improve the standard of living for residents.
“I love people and I find serving them to be very satisfying and fulfilling,” she said. “Hillcrest Estates is a very special place, my civic work is a nurturing pastime.”
“We perfected our paddling. We’re going to go in a straight line this year,” she said, standing by her team’s fish-themed cruiser. “Even if we don’t win, we had fun building the boat together.”
Judged on originality, speed and the appearance of their boats, pairs of sailors from seven area schools competed for trophies and bragging rights. They were not allowed to test their vessels until the race began.
Crafts capsized. Sailboats sank. Yet some voyaged to victory across Jamaica High School’s 75-foot-long pool.
In the end, first place went to the Bulldogs from the Humanities and the Arts High school in Cambria Heights. The team said they learned their lesson from last year’s loss and implemented key changes. The five students, two of whom piloted the boat, made their vessel narrower, ditched their paddles and added air chambers for extra buoyancy.
Fifteen rolls of duct tape and three days later, under the guidance of two teachers, they nailed the winning formula.
“I feel great,” said Harry Silva, 15. “We really changed the boat.”
Others left without trophies, but not completely empty-handed.
Jamaica High School’s Hurricanes turned the competition into a science project.
After educator Jeanne Quarto’s Brooklyn home was devastated by Sandy, her students designed their boat with violent storms in mind. They spent four days building a solid ship and hours conducting research on what to do before and after a hurricane, they said.
“It’s very special [to me] that they came up with the idea,” said Quarto, 51, a special education and earth science teacher. “They put so much work and effort on this boat.”
The Queens Courier asked the first place victors what their secret was to keeping their paper boats afloat.
“Pray,” said team leader Adam Abrego. “We just pray.”
After seven Queens high schools won a nearly yearlong battle with the city to remain open, the institutions — along with 10 other borough schools — find themselves on a state list of schools that need to shape up or shut down.
New York state education officials unveiled a list of 123 schools in the city that face closure by the 2014 school year if improvements are not made. The list is made of schools in the bottom 5 percent on test scores and graduation rates.
Twenty-two borough schools also made the state’s list of the best in New York.
Six Queens high school were marked for turnaround by the city — which would have closed and reopened the institutions under new names — before a judge overruled the decision. Now, the schools again find themselves on a list that might mean their closure.
“The state’s new system more closely resembles the city’s school Progress Reports by recognizing growth and measuring students’ college and career readiness. This year, 55 schools were recognized for their strong performance and fewer schools were identified as struggling,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said. “There is still more work to do, and we will continue to support our struggling schools while holding them accountable to the high standards our students deserve.”
The Queens schools include 12 high schools, three middle schools and an elementary school.
The schools are: Newtown High School, Grover Cleveland High School, Flushing High School, Martin Van Buren High School, Beach Channel High School, August Martin High School, Richmond Hill High School, John Adams High School, Excelsior Prep High School, Jamaica High School, Long Island City High School, William Cullen Bryant High School, M.S. 53, J.H.S. 8, I.S. 192 and P.S. 111.
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Even though the Department of Education’s (DOE) decision to close Jamaica High School was finalized in February, current students are still hoping for a quality education.
Currently in the process of being phased out, Jamaica High School no longer accepts new students and is expected to close its doors for good in 2014.
But while class may still be in session, parents and local officials feel the DOE has turned its back on a struggling school.
Senator Tony Avella joined Jamaica High School students and faculty on Monday, December 5 to address what he feels is a lack of support in a school’s time of need.
“The DOE has consistently failed to honor its commitment to Jamaica High School and the students are suffering,” Avella said. “The DOE’s lack of commitment to Jamaica is the reason the school is closing to begin with.”
According to DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas, each school is allotted a certain amount of funds per pupil. He said Jamaica High School also recently received a $50,000 grant for technology and a $221,000 grant from the city because of their Title One status as a failing school.
“We want to give students access to high-quality education, and [the school is not] giving them that,” Thomas said.
But Avella said the school has yet to see a dime.
“They have yet to provide the necessary resources for students and current programs,” said Avella, who alleged that physics, chemistry and French programs have all been cut. He also said that classrooms are overcrowded, paper is scarce and teachers fight over a piece of chalk.
“Not giving them resources is beyond disgraceful, it’s shameful,” said Avella.
Before deciding to close a school, the DOE examines everything from enrollment to school surveys, attendance and progress reports. According to Thomas, Jamaica High School received an “F” on its latest progress report and is in the bottom eight percent of graduation rates across the city. Thomas said that when poorly performing schools are shut down, new schools are set up in their place with new teachers and a new program.
“When we close a school, we aim to open a new, better school in its place,” said Thomas.
Jamaica High School shares a campus with four other schools, including the newly-formed Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences — which recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its first successful semester.