Thursday, February 4, 2010

State Labels Several Queens Schools as Underperforming

Grover Cleveland, Newtown, John Adams and Richmond Hill Included

By Conor Greene

Several local high schools, including Grover Cleveland, Newtown, John Adams and Richmond Hill, have been included on the state’s list of 57 “persistently lowest achieving” institutions due to low graduation rates.

A total of ten schools in Queens were named to the list, which occurs as a result of graduation rates below 60 percent or annually low scores on state English and math tests. According to the state Department of Education, they are “eligible for new funding and major intervention to turn them around, as part of New York’s School reform agenda.”

“We are entering a new era of reform in which we will build upon New York’s current initiatives to intervene in low performing schools and improve student outcomes as a result,” said Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents. “New federal funding opportunities will allow us to work with districts to go beyond incremental improvements to create truly excellent models of education for our students, particularly in those high schools with the lowest graduation rates.”

Schools are eligible to receive up to $500,000 provided they come up with a viable turnaround plan. Options include redesigning or replacing the school, converting the facility to a charter school, transforming the school through a process that uses “a rigorous” evaluation system for teachers and principals or closing the school and transferring the students to higher achieving schools in the area.

“Districts are being given an opportunity to use federal funding to provide focused concentrated resources to help schools improve English language arts and mathematics performance and increase graduation rates,” said Education Commissioner David Steiner in a statement. “I expect districts to develop aggressive, innovative plans that… will make a profound difference in the outcomes for their students.”

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the borough representative on the Panel on Educational Policy, noted that the state isn’t pushing to close any of the named schools, but is recommending the four courses of action to the city DOE. “There is much confusion on the report… Much of the report still has to be disseminated, but I strongly recommend that our school communities remain vigilant on the matter and continue to ask questions of the DOE,” he said in an e-mail.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said the city must find ways to keep these schools open and improve them due to the overcrowding situation the borough faces, especially on the high school level. She noted that Forest Hills High School currently serves 4,000 students on split schedules, despite having just 2,700 seats.

“From early in the morning to late at night students are crammed in there and now they’re talking about closing another high school. It’s ridiculous,” said Koslowitz. “These schools were good for so many years and now all of a sudden they can’t be fixed? I really feel the schools should be fixed, not closed.”

In Ridgewood, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said it is “disappointing that the state wants to close Grover Cleveland.” She pointed out that the school’s English test scores and graduation rates are impacted by the fact that so many first generation immigrations who don’t necessarily speak the language well go there. In contrast, the school’s math and science programs are very strong, according to Crowley.

“The thing with Grover Cleveland and a lot of the larger schools is they serve students who are neediest as well, including new Americans who haven’t been in the country for very long” she said. “They might have different needs, and I don’t think the DOE has always given that extra service.”

Crowley said she plans to visit the school and meet with its principal along with Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan in the coming weeks. “We are going to advocate strongly to help bring in those services needed to prevent the school from closing,” she said.

The city DOE didn’t respond to several messages seeking comment. The state’s list, released on January 21, came just days before the city, in a separate action, voted to close 19 facilities, including Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools.

The other Queens high schools named on the state’s list are: Queens Vocational Technical, Flushing, August Martin, Beach Channel, Jamaica, and Long Island City.

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