Tag Archives: William Cullen Bryant High School

16 Queens schools face shutdown by state


| brennison@queenscourier.com

File photo

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.

 

 

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.

Turnaround proposals submitted for eight Queens high schools


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Elected officials are refusing to “turn” the other cheek on the city’s plan to overhaul a number of high schools throughout the borough.

The Department of Education (DOE) has submitted proposals to Turnaround eight high schools – Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City, Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams – resulting in the closure of the school at the end of the academic year and its reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012, along with the replacement of 50 percent of the faculty.

In total, 33 schools across the city have been designated for the Turnaround model, but each current student will be guaranteed a seat in their reopened school.

Local leaders, parents and teachers have all expressed outrage over the DOE’s plans, emphasizing the destructive influence this will have on students.

“This is a slap in the face to all of the teachers and students who have been working hard to keep [these schools] on the road towards greatness,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a graduate of Bryant High School. “I think pulling the plug is the wrong way to go. The students feel pride in their school, and if you close it, you are saying it is a failure. I think that’s the wrong message.”

Van Bramer, who called the city’s tactics “draconian,” also noted that a new principal was installed in Bryant in September, giving the leader less than a year at the school.

Other legislators have argued that politics should be left out of the classroom.

“The DOE should realize this proposal does not factor how such an extreme overhaul of Bryant and L.I.C high schools would affect attending students and how they learn,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “Children’s education should supersede political posturing.”

DOE officials said the city lost significant federal funding when an agreement on teacher evaluations could not be reached with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

By deciding to Turnaround the schools – a program which does not require teacher evaluations – the city can apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

“When we did not get an agreement with the UFT by January, we lost out on money from the state,” said DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas. “That’s one of the reasons behind this – we want to try to salvage as much of those funds as possible. We also see this as an opportunity for these schools to get better, improve their culture, improve their school program, improve their staff and become much better schools.”

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 Michael Bloomberg, on April 26.

According to Thomas, if the Turnaround proposal is approved by PEP, the department plans to move forward regardless of funding.

“This is being done because of the mayor’s ego, and not because of any inability of the UFT to negotiate,” said Ken Achiron, the UFT chapter leader of L.I.C. “The mayor walked away from the table and refused to negotiate. I think this is a disaster for the children and school system. This mayor is doing more damage than the fiscal crisis of 1975.”

Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C. for 16 years, believes the plan has hurt students and educators alike.

“I think this will severely disrupt the students’ education,” she said. “If the goal is to improve education, this is the worst thing they can do. Teacher morale is low, and it should be clear that Bloomberg is trying to remove teachers.”

Van Bramer kicks off a week of ‘Respect’


| smosco@queenscourier.com

2-13_Respect_for_All_(FINAL)w

Queens is as diverse as a borough can get – and the city celebrates that diversity with Respect for All Week, an annual, citywide event.

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer traveled to his alma mater, William Cullen Bryant High School, to join with students and teachers in kicking off the week-long initiative. The week is meant to promote respect for diversity through skits, art projects, readings and performances.

“Events like Respect for All Week are important for all students throughout the city to be a part of,” said Van Bramer at the February 13 event. “Bryant High School provides its students with a welcoming environment that is inviting and appreciative toward students from all different backgrounds. This event was a perfect example of how students can come together to celebrate each other’s differences. I am proud of Bryant High School and all the students who participated in this event.”

Also at the event, Principal Namita Dwarka presented Van Bramer with a plaque honoring him for his service toward the community and his effort to help keep Bryant High School from being shut down by the Department of Education.

 

Eight high schools to ‘Turnaround’


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

The city’s failure to successfully negotiate with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) may spell doom for more than half a dozen high schools across Queens — including the subtraction of half their educators.

Due to the inability of the two parties to come to an agreement regarding teacher evaluations, the Department of Education (DOE) has moved eight high schools — Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City (L.I.C.), Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams — into the School Improvement Grant Program known as Turnaround.

Turnaround 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. The schools, which are state-designated Persistently Low Achieving (PLA), were initially slated for Transformation or Restart, which do not involve closure and are less severe programs with regards to expulsion of faculty.

“A school’s performance is judged on multiple measures, and when there has been important progress but there is also significant room for improvement, we believe students will benefit from intervention,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “This is an opportunity to assess and keep what is working and also bring in a new wave of talent that will be able to build on the progress already made.”

As part of the Turnaround program, school-based committees will be formed to assess and replace half the teaching staff based on merit — replacing the least effective teachers and keeping the best. Each school will be reopened by the fall of 2012, and every current student will have a seat in their respective school.

In total, 62 schools from across the five boroughs have been assigned to one of the DOE’s intervention programs.

Of these, 18 schools will be phased out over several years by not accepting any new students and officially closing after current classes graduate.

Five will close at the end of the current school year in June, forcing current students to transfer. Six will lose their middle school grades but stay open as either high schools or elementary schools only, and the remaining 33 schools will close in June and reopen immediately with a different name.

P.S. 215 in Woodmere has been slated for phase-out, and the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, a charter elementary school in Rockaway Park, is also lined up for closure.

Since negotiations between the DOE and UFT failed, the city’s School Improvement Grants (SIG), which are used by 27 of the 33 schools designated for Turnaround, has been suspended by the state. The city, however, is hopeful its actions will once again make it eligible to receive the funds.

“The unfortunate thing is that we see this as the mayor playing politics with our schools, and they are holding these PLA schools and their communities hostage,” said James Vasquez, Queens district representative for the UFT. “The turnaround model has no educational value other than the mayor’s unwillingness to come to an agreement in negotiations. We have been and continue to be open to negotiations.We are not the ones who walked away from the table, they were. In the end, these school communities are the ones who will suffer.”

Vasquez says the city abandoned negotiations roughly 36 hours before the state’s January 1 deadline. He claims the mayor opposes the state’s new holistic evaluation approach — which the UFT supports — and is searching for a scapegoat for the precarious situation in city schools.

Despite the distraction, some teachers are concentrating on their students, attempting to prevent the ambiguous situation from causing a digression in their education.

“A lot of things are in motion and we’re sorting out what it means,” said Debra Lavache, a teacher at Flushing High School. “We’re just focusing on the students. We still have students to teach.”

The majority of students, parents and faculty have expressed tremendous outrage regarding the city’s plans, furious that the students’ education is being placed in the middle of a bureaucratic war.

“We have worked around the clock to try and improve the school,” said Mirit Jakab, an English and Theatre teacher at Grover Cleveland High School. “Many parents and kids are very disappointed. This is tearing our community apart. It is a shame that what seems to be politics is hurting our kids.”

Other teachers believe the Turnaround will do more harm than good.

“I think the city has not given us enough support to implement structural changes that would help the students achieve. It is designed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to fail,” said Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C. High School. “The worst thing you can do is implement this Turnaround model, because what will turn around is the students, and they will go back home. They will turn their backs on education.”

Students at L.I.C. echoed their teacher, emphasizing the lack of excitement and energy most will exhibit while attending the “turned around” school.

“I think this is a terrible idea,” said Amara, a 17-year-old senior. “This is only going to psychologically harm the kids and teachers. Rearranging the system is going to make students get used to a whole new set of teachers. It will drive us away from learning.”

Barbara Loupakis, who graduated from L.I.C. in 1987 and currently has a daughter in 10th grade at the school, believes the Turnaround is the latest example of the city not prioritizing education

“This year things have been going crazy,” Loupakis said. “First there were not enough teachers. A lot that they had were substitutes because they didn’t want to spend money to hire teachers. They have books that are over 20 years old. My daughter brought home a book that my husband had. We don’t have money to give new books and now we are firing teachers? My daughter is not going to want to come back. Because of these changes, these kids are not going to have the spirit and drive to get up in the morning. Bloomberg is sending a message to these kids that they are nothing.”