Tag Archives: Turnaround

City turns around: Turnaround high schools to open with no changes

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Three months after being voted to close, seven Turnaround Queens high schools will open in September as if nothing ever happened, with no changes in place.

On April 26, the Panel for Educational Policy approved the city’s plan to close the Turnaround schools and reopen them under new names with up to half the staff replaced. By instituting the Turnaround model the city was eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

The Turnaround plan began to unravel when an arbitrator ruled near the end of June that the teacher firings violated the educators’ union contract, thereby negating the city’s ability to receive the SIG funds. The arbitrator’s ruling was upheld in State Supreme Court last week, assuring all teachers would keep their jobs and return to the classroom.

The final piece turning back the Turnaround took place on July 31, when the city emailed previous principals of the 24 schools throughout the city instructing them on steps to take to reopen the institutions under their original names.

The city still plans to appeal the ruling, but has now turned its attention to “a smooth school opening,” the letter states.

Principals were notified to compare their current staff against their staff at the end of the school year to identify any positions that need filling. Some teachers at the Turnaround schools accepted positions elsewhere while the plan was in limbo. The schools have a little over a month to make sure classrooms are fully staffed. School begins on September 6.

Parents with children at the schools will receive an update in the coming days, the letter says.

Turnaround teachers back to work

| brennison@queenscourier.com

The city, winless in its court battles over Turnaround schools, plans to continue its fight after another loss, just weeks away from classes commencing.

State Supreme Court Justice Joan Lobis upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that deemed the Department of Education’s Turnaround plan violated teachers’ contracts, allowing the educators to return to the classroom.

Under the plan, the city would have removed more than 3,500 educators from the struggling schools and had them reapply for jobs at the institutions, which would reopen under new names.

“The mayor and [Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott] will not allow failing schools to deprive our students of the high-quality education they deserve,” the city’s attorney Michael A. Cardozo said in a statement. “Although we will of course comply with the judge’s ruling, we strongly disagree with it.”

The city plans to appeal.

“This is a tremendous victory for UFT [United Federation of Teachers] members in the 24 [Persistently Low Achieving] schools and for our entire union,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote in a letter to teachers at the Turnaround schools. “We stood firm in this fight because we knew, from day one, that the DOE was wrong in its interpretation of our contract — and because we could not sit idly by while thousands of good teachers were unfairly forced out of their positions by a mayor intent on maligning our profession.”

Turnaround was set in motion after the city and union failed to come to an agreement on an evaluation system which jeopardized almost $60 million in federal School Improvement Grants [SIG].

Receiving those funds was contingent on changes being made in the schools, which due to the city’s losses in court has not happened.

Whether the seven Queens high schools marked for Turnaround — August Martin, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown, Richmond Hill and William C. Bryant — will be renamed remains undetermined.

Turnaround schools get new names

| brennison@queenscourier.com

When the seven Queens Turnaround high schools reopen their doors, it will be under a new name.

The names were chosen through a process of engagement with students, staff, community members, alumni and elected officials.

“I want to congratulate all 24 schools on a thorough process to propose school names that honor their histories, their neighborhoods and their new visions for success,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

The schools new names are as follows:

August Martin- School of Opportunities at the August Martin Campus

Bryant- Academy of Humanities and Applied Science at the William Cullen Bryant Campus

Flushing- Rupert B. Thomas Academy at the Flushing Campus

John Adams- Future Leaders High School at the John Adams Campus

Long Island City- Global Scholars Academies of Long Island City

Newtown- College and Career Academies High School at Newtown Campus

Richmond Hill- 21st Century School of Richmond Hill

Seven Queens high schools close their doors for good

| brennison@queenscourier.com

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The final bell rang for the seven Queens Turnaround high schools as the last students passed through the doors of what the city graded as failing institutions.

Wednesday, June 27, marked the final day of class for August Martin, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown, Richmond Hill and William C. Bryant after the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close the schools in April. Seventeen other high schools around the city have also closed.

Under the Turnaround model, the schools will reopen in the fall under a new name with half the staff possibly replaced.

“I guess I’m happy that I’m the last graduating class of this high school but at the same time it’s disappointing because we’re not coming back and half of these teachers are not coming back at all,” said Newtown senior Adianes Dalle, fighting back tears. “I tried my best to keep it open… There’s no point in coming to visit because [the teachers] are not going to be here.”

The state’s Education Department approved the closings on Friday, June 22, saying they met New York’s requirements.

“I’m disappointed that I’m not going to finish my career here,” said Bryant teacher Mike Sherwood, who has been at the school for 20 years.

The Queens schools shutting their doors were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on an evaluation system.

Flushing teacher Robert Pomeranz called the Turnaround “a trick by renaming and renumbering.”

“Next year, the new school won’t have statistics that will count for another three years. It is a trick by the mayor and his flunkies.”

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city was eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

That funding has been provisionally approved by the state pending the outcome of arbitration.

“My conditional approval of these plans is contingent on the NYC DOE’s ability to meet the relevant staff replacement requirements, ongoing consultation and collaboration with stakeholders,” state Education Commissioner John King wrote in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

The UFT filed a lawsuit in May saying the method of replacing teachers at the turnaround schools violated their contracts.

An arbitrator will determine if the DOE has properly staffed the turnaround schools.

If the arbitrator decides against the DOE — which says it is properly following the guidelines in the teachers’ contract — the department may revisit and consider additional staff from the closed school in order to receive SIG funds. The DOE said that the fact that the state education commissioner approved the closures will be brought the arbiter’s attention.

Though the federal funding is important to supporting the new institutions, the spokesperson said, the main mission of the turnaround plan was developing a strategy to improve student achievement.

Committees composed of representatives from the UFT and DOE will make the decision on whether former teachers meet the qualifications at the new school.

The final decisions on hirings cannot be made until after the arbitrator’s decision, the UFT said, which the union expects soon.

“No final personnel decisions involving these schools can be made until the arbitrator rules on the UFT’s contention that these are not really new schools,” a UFT spokesperson said.

— Additional reporting by Chris Brito

Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks about Turnaround, special ed reform at forum

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Concerned parents spoke out about special education reform, set to sweep the city this fall, at a recent Community Education Council 27 forum featuring Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

While the hot topic dominated most of the evening’s conversation at M.S. 137 in Ozone Park, parents, teachers and administrators inquired about a gamut of issues, from students’ health to Turnaround.

One attendee asked why children only have physical education for 40 minutes once a week when childhood obesity is a major problem in the United States. Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm mentioned the “Move to Improve” program, an in-class activity teachers can implement with their students right in the classroom, getting them out of their chairs and in motion, without using any equipment. Grimm also discussed the opportunity for schools to develop a “wellness committee” — an in-school organization dedicated to implementing tools for a healthy lifestyle.

Citywide changes to special education programs dominated the evening’s discussion, however. In September, students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) – those struggling with a broad spectrum of issues from reading disorders to physical disabilities – will be integrated into classes with general education students.

Parents present during the meeting expressed feelings of discomfort towards this initiative, fearing it could remove seats in already-crowded classes for general education children. One attendee stormed out of the meeting, repeatedly shouting “You’re lying!”

According to DOE officials, several school districts have few to no students with disabilities in attendance, adding that the new program is about “equality and access.” It was noted that students with special needs will not be “force placed” into classes.

“[The DOE] doesn’t want to see schools with zero percent special education population,” officials said.

Walcott believes it is an initiative that will help all children “flourish.”

It was also announced that no new gifted and talented programs will begin this year, due to lack of demand.

Turnaround remained another touchy subject at the May 15 meeting. Schools selected will receive complete overhauls with “new names, new designs and new emphasis,” according to Walcott.

“Schools need to be changed,” said Walcott. “We need to have the guts to do that.”

UFT sues to prevent school closings

| mchan@queenscourier.com

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The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) are hoping to “turnaround” the city’s decision to close 24 schools in court.

The organizations filed suit today in State Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction until issues surrounding the Department of Education’s (DOE) Turnaround plan can be resolved through arbitration, UFT officials said.

Under Turnaround, 24 city schools — including seven in Queens — will close at the end of the semester and reopen under a new name in the fall. While non-graduating students at each school will be guaranteed a seat, teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, according to the DOE. If 50 percent of the former teachers reapply, at least that amount will have to be rehired.

“These ‘sham closings’ are an attempt by the DOE to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan in a joint statement.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) — made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven others who are selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — voted 8-4 to close the schools on April 26.

The mayor’s appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the Turnaround plan, while the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.

“We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements,” the statement said.

According to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, preparations have already been made to open the new schools in September, including training leadership teams and holding meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. He said the lawsuit “could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Walcott said in a statement. “Our strategy of replacing failing schools has led to major gains in achievement and graduation rates, and we pledge to extend that progress no matter what special interest groups try to obstruct it.”

The seven closing Queens schools are August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown and Richmond Hill High School. They were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the UFT on an evaluation system.

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

According to UFT and CSA officials, unless the DOE agrees that it has improperly identified the 24 schools, the issue will go before an independent arbitrator.


Seven Queens high schools to close

| brennison@queenscourier.com

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Seven Queens high schools had their fates sealed and doors closed by a Panel of Educational Policy (PEP) vote last night in Brooklyn.

The schools — August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown and Richmond Hill — will close at the end of this semester and reopen in the fall under a new name with up to 50 percent new teachers.  A total of 24 schools throughout the city will be closed.

Yesterday, Grover Cleveland was one of two schools removed from the list of schools slated to close prior to the vote.

“Over the past several weeks, during public hearings and visits from my senior leadership, we looked closely at schools whose performance and quality of instruction have shown positive signs in the last two years. We have come to believe that two of those schools – Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School – have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

The PEP is made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven selected by the mayor.

The mayors appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the turnaround plan, the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.


Grover Cleveland saved from closure

| brennison@queenscourier.com


Hours before the Panel for Educational Policy meeting to decide the fate of 26 city schools, the Department of Education removed Grover Cleveland High School from the list ensuring its survival.

Under the turnaround model the Ridgewood school would have closed and reopened under a new name with up to half the teachers being replaced. Bushwick Community High School was also removed from the list.

“Over the past several weeks, during public hearings and visits from my senior leadership, we looked closely at schools whose performance and quality of instruction have shown positive signs in the last two years. We have come to believe that two of those schools – Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School – have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

The hearing on Monday, April 2 and the public comments given that night also played a role into the DOE’s decision to keep the school open.

“This news is a testament to the hard work of the school community, the students, parents and teachers and Principal [Denise] Vittor at Grover Cleveland,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley. “I was proud to stand with the community protesting the turnaround model, and I am relieved the DOE has listened to common sense and will keep the school open. We must continue to fight for the remaining schools that are still slated for closure.”

Cleveland has shown improvement in recent years raising its graduation rate and being rated proficient on the quality review.

Twenty four other schools — seven in Queens — will have their fate determined tonight at the PEP meeting in Brooklyn.


Community says changing the name of August Martin HS destroys legacy

| brennison@queenscourier.com

For students and graduates of August Martin High School, the name’s significance far surpasses letters emblazoned on the front of a school building. It exemplifies legacy, tradition and achievement. It represents a man that everyone that walks through the doors can look to as an example of triumph.

In 1971, the school’s named was changed from Woodrow Wilson to August Martin, honoring the country’s first black commercial pilot.

The Jamaica high school currently finds itself is on the list of schools planning to be turned around, meaning the school may close and reopen under a new name.

“If we allow August Martin to be taken off this building, what it does is simply does away with history,” said Ricky Davis, a commercial pilot and teacher of aviation at the school. “It does away with the struggle of our ancestors.”

The predominantly black school is just three miles from John F. Kennedy International Airport and the only school that allows students the opportunity to man an aircraft. Approximately 300 students are enrolled in the aviation program. Every Thursday, Davis takes his class to fly, sometimes solo, allowing students to obtain hours towards a pilot license.

“I would never be in favor of getting rid of the name August Martin,” said Councilmember James Sanders. “I would be very much in favor of keeping tradition; keeping a legacy going.”

Martin, a Tuskegee Airman, was killed in 1968 while delivering goods to Biafra during the Nigerian civil war.

“That name means something, because if it wasn’t for a man like that, guess what, [Chancellor Dennis Walcott] wouldn’t have his job,” said Cleavon Evans August Martin’s Alumni Association president. “You want to take that name and destroy it? How disrespectful to this community.”

A handful of students attended Monday, April 16’s public hearing on the school’s potential closure proudly displaying their pilot stripes earned at the school.

“[The DOE] doesn’t understand that this school is rooted in the community. They don’t understand that [Martin] learned to fly in Tuskegee, they don’t understand that he died bringing goods to children in Biafra,” said Leo Casey, the UFT vice president for high schools. “They think that a name is like a number, that you can just change it. Well, this school has history and this school cannot die.”

Assemblymember Cathy Nolan pleads for Grover Cleveland

| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

“It can’t happen, it just can’t happen,” said Assemblymember Cathy Nolan as she shook her head at the thought of her alma mater, Grover Cleveland High School, closing its doors.

A similar scenario 35 years ago helped launch Nolan’s political aspirations.

In the mid-70s, during the city’s fiscal crisis, there was a push to shut down Grover Cleveland. This was the catalyst for Nolan to leap into student government and politics.

“The school helped make me the person I am.”

Before sitting through the three-and-a-half-hour public hearing, Nolan joined protesting students on the steps of the 81-year-old school, many of whom the assemblymember said she expects to join her one day in Albany.

“This terrible threat to our community high school has been met with I think the strongest outpouring of support in my many years of community service,” Nolan said, adding she was moved by the students’ speeches.

“I want the record to reflect that we love our high school,” said Nolan at the hearing. “The restart model is supposed to be a long-term plan with the school receiving funds and taking part in the model over three years. To decide that after five months to abruptly pursue a different and more drastic route is bad public policy.”

Nolan’s turn at the microphone brought the crowd of more than 1,000 supporters to their feet several times and produced some of the loudest cheers of the night.

“I don’t even really remember what I said. I just spoke from the heart.”

Nolan’s standing as an alumna is affecting her as much, if not more,than her place as a politician, she said.

“You have to listen to us,” pleaded Nolan to the panel at the hearing that will help decide the school’s fate on April 26.

“I’m not even going to consider that the school’s going to close. I don’t even want to think about it right now. If we have to, we’ll bring even more people April 26,” she said. “I mean it just can’t happen.”


Supporters rally around Bryant High School

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

Students and teachers of William Cullen Bryant High School came out in force to show they give a “hoot” about their school.

Bryant – whose mascot is an owl – is in danger of being “turned around” by the Department of Education (DOE), resulting in the closing of the school at the end of the academic year and reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012. The Turnaround model also involves the replacement of up to 50 percent of the school’s more than 200 educators, but all current students and incoming ninth graders who have applied and been matched to Bryant will have a seat in the new school.

Over 100 elected officials, faculty, students and parents attended a rally prior to a DOE public hearing at the school, located at 48-10 31st Avenue in Long Island City, on April 4 – voicing their displeasure with the city’s plan by chanting “Save our school. Keep Bryant open.”

“[Bryant] shouldn’t be saved because of its history. It should be saved because of what’s happening here today,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, an alumnus of Bryant. “You have over 3,000 kids, many of whom are the children of immigrants – 20 percent of students are English language learners and 34 percent of students are eligible for free lunches. Firing over half the teachers and opening up a new school, there’s no way that doesn’t disrupt the lives of these kids and cause a rupture that would be really difficult to heal.”

A number of teachers and students also spoke at the rally, including Bryant Student Body President Sotiria Zouroudis.

“We are like a family here, and if they fire the teachers then this family is broken. We don’t want to see that happen,” she said.

Teachers at Bryant expressed concern that the DOE is working against the school, rather than with it.

“I think this is terrible and it is demoralizing students and teachers,” said Georgia Lignou, a history teacher at Bryant. “The DOE has been undermining this school for years. They keep claiming the Turnaround is not going to be disruptive to the students, but I think it is going to be very disruptive – already it is disruptive because the students feel they’re in a school that is not good.”

Despite the outrage most have shown towards the Turnaround model, some parents believe adjustments are necessary.

“The kids can only be affected in a good way – [the Turnaround] is not affecting them in any other way,” said the parent of a Bryant freshman who preferred to remain anonymous. “The school will be here in September, the kids will come in, they will have an opportunity for 50 percent new teachers, a new way of teaching, more funding and different programs. This is a school that needs change.”

DOE Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez said the department “stands behind” current Bryant principal Namita Dwarka’s leadership and believes she is the “right person to be the proposed new leader of the proposed new school.”

Rodriguez also said the DOE is aiming to improve the educational quality at Bryant – which had a four-year graduation rate of 57 percent last year, below the citywide rate of 65 percent. Bryant also received an overall grade of “C” on its 2010-11 annual progress report, with an “F” on student performance, “D” on student progress and “B” on school environment. According to Rodriguez, Bryant was showing improvement on certain Regents Exams, and the school ranked in the top third in the city in graduating students with disabilities within four years.

“By closing W.C. Bryant and replacing it with a new school, we are seeking to rapidly create a school environment that will prepare for success in college, work and life,” Rodriguez said. “The new school will build on the strongest elements of W.C. Bryant, and it will also incorporate new elements in order to create a rigorous culture for teaching and learning.”

Bryant is on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and was receiving a significant amount of Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on an evaluation system. By instituting the Turnaround model – a program which does not require teacher evaluations – the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state. Bryant would be eligible for $1.8 million in supplemental federal funding.

Dermot Smyth, the Queens political action coordinator for the UFT, believes Mayor Michael Bloomberg should return to negotiations with the union and cease “this nonsense with these schools.”

“With all the publicity surrounding these schools, how many parents are going to want to send their kids here next year,” he said. “This has a domino effect of affecting every neighborhood in this borough in a negative way. The mayor has created a dark cloud over these schools – one of suspicion – which is unwarranted and untrue.”

Initially, 33 schools across the borough were designated for Turnaround, but the DOE recently removed seven schools from the list after discovering they had report card grades of “A” or “B.” Smyth says the city’s actions prove their plan has “no educational justification whatsoever.”

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 Bloomberg, on April 26.

Thousands of Grover Cleveland supporters tell DOE to keep school open

| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

More than 1,000 supporters packed Grover Cleveland High School’s auditorium to have their voices heard by Department of Education (DOE) officials. And as each of the more than 50 speakers stepped to the microphone, they made one thing clear — closing the school is not an option.

Grover Cleveland is one of 26 high schools on the list for Turnaround. Seven were removed from the original list of 33 on April 2.

If the Ridgewood 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 be replaced.

“The students don’t want it, the parents don’t want it, the teachers don’t want it, the administrators don’t want it, our former principal doesn’t want it, our current principal doesn’t want it, only the DOE wants it,” said Russ Nitchman, a Grover Cleveland science teacher.

The DOE held a hearing at the school on Monday, April 2 to allow public comment on the proposed Turnaround.

“This evening is not a decision point,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “We’re here to hear the voices of the community.”

Parents, students, teachers, former teachers and alumni all spoke, extolling the school’s place as their second home.

“It was Cleveland that helped give me a wide variety of experiences. I got to sing and dance, I wasn’t very good, I said I better be a politician,” said alumna and Assemblymember Cathy Nolan. “There were wonderful things here that gave me opportunity; opportunity to learn who I was.”

A steady stream of students stepped to the mic to relay stories of the teachers at the school changing their lives.

“The very staff that got us to this point is in jeopardy,” said Geline Canayon, a senior at the school and the student association president.

“Students are anxious and upset at the prospect of losing their favorite teacher, scrambling to get college recommendations before their teachers are forced out,” said Brian Gavin, the union rep at the school. “Concerned that during their all important senior and junior years they will have teachers that are inexperienced, don’t know them and their community leaving them unprepared for college and their careers.”

The fervent speakers’ zeal often carried them well past their two minute allotment during the more than three-and-a-half-hour meeting.

“It is time for Mayor Bloomberg to take his incompetent staff and get out of Ridgewood and leave the business of education to educators,” bellowed Arthur Goldstein, who came from Francis Lewis High School, where he is the school’s union rep to lend his support.

“I’m going to make a simple request, take Grover Cleveland off the list of turnaround schools,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo. “It’s not only an emotional request, it’s a fact based request.”

On its most recent DOE progress report Cleveland received a C, a year after earning a B. The graduation rate was 58 percent last year, seven points below the city wide average.

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 Cleveland 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 what the Department of Education is trying to do to you,” said Leo Casey, UFT vice president for high schools. “There is only one reason why such an educationally invalid step has been taken here, and that is because it serves the political agenda of Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg.”

As the hearing wound down at approximately 9:30 p.m. more than 100 supporters remained to make certain their comments were made public record.

“We teach our students that democracy works,” said teacher Donald Zigler. “Keep Cleveland open; the people have spoken.”

The final vote on the school’s future is scheduled for April 26.


Down the Drain? Flushing High School fights to remain

| smosco@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Steve Mosco

After more than 100 years of reading, writing and arithmetic, Flushing High School now faces its toughest test of all.

Legislators and education advocates gathered in front of the school to protest a possible Turnaround, which would effectively eliminate Flushing High School as it is currently constituted.

“Over the past few years, Flushing High School has improved,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky at the protest on February 24. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but closing the school and replacing the principal and staff with multiple layers of educational bureaucracy is not the solution.”

Stavisky, who worked as a substitute teacher at the school before her election to the State Senate, was joined by Assemblymember Grace Meng and Councilmember Peter Koo, as well as representatives for the school, the United Federal of Teachers (UFT) and the NAACP.

The protest was sparked after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to replace about half of the teaching staff at the 33 city schools, including eight in Queens, identified as struggling by the state. These 33 schools are in a federal improvement program because of low test scores and graduation rates.

A spokesperson representing UFT president Michael Mulgrew said that Bloomberg’s push for Turnaround stems from a disagreement between the mayor and the teacher organization.

“We are here today in support of not only Flushing High School, but all the schools the mayor is holding hostage,” Mulgrew’s spokesperson said. “It is time the mayor put our children and our school’s first, and end the political grandstanding that has now gone on for far too long.”

Flushing High School, and the other 32 schools listed for closure, had recently received the OK from the Department of Education (DOE) to implement reform models aimed at reversing troubling trends. According to the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators Ernest Logan, the DOE isn’t giving these reforms the time to take hold and make a difference.

“All of these schools, including Flushing, had rather recently embarked on new reform models with the blessing of the NYC DOE,” said Logan. “For the DOE to now abruptly reject those schools’ efforts, without examination of their progress, is arbitrary, capricious and insensitive to children and families.”

DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas said that Flushing High School received a “D” on its most recent progress report, with an “F” on the student performance section. He also said that graduation rates at schools serving similar populations are significantly higher than at Flushing.

“We understand the passionate feelings these issues evoke on all sides, but these proposals represent an opportunity to provide our families with new, high-quality schools that will do better by students, and ultimately that has to be our priority,” said Thomas.

Thomas also said that the DOE cannot afford to let underperforming schools linger while a teacher evaluation deal is hammered out and implemented. He said the turnaround plan keeps the best parts of the existing school, including its highest quality faculty, while creating a new program, new school culture and a different and better environment for students.


Grover Cleveland High School Protests Turnaround

| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

Students and faculty gathered outside Grover Cleveland High School to tell the mayor not to “turn” his back on their school.

The Ridgewood high school currently sits on the list of high schools to be “turned around,” which involves the closure and immediate reopening of the school under a different name, along with the replacement of the principal and 50 percent of the teachers.

Over 200 members of the school’s community took to the streets surrounding the school, marching and brandishing signs calling for people to dial 3-1-1 to protest the school’s potential closing.

“Bloomberg doesn’t know anything about the school,” said science teacher Russ Nitchman, calling the threat of a turnaround a “political hissyfit” from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As the protest made its way to Metropolitan Avenue, passing cars honked their support for the protest.

Senior class president Diana Rodriguez is worried about the effect the turnaround would have on the students that will remain at the school next year.

“We have such a bond with these teachers, to just ruin that, get rid of 50 percent of the staff, it’s going to have a negative effect,” she said.

“There is a sense of home, here for the kids,” said English teacher Elizabeth Clark, who graduated from the school. “The kids need that safe haven.”

A vote will be held later this year to determine the fate of the 33 schools designated for turnaround.

“This entire community is here supporting Grover Cleveland and unfortunately the mayor’s plan never takes any of that into account,” said Queens UFT representative James Vazquez. “Moving people around and playing with numbers is the only solution [the city] ever has.”