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.