Thursday, January 20, 2011

Teachers Dress in Black to Protest School Closings

By Jason Barczy

Teachers for P.S. 30 Ruby S. Couche Elementary School showed up to an educational town hall meeting on January 13 dressed in black to protest a New York City Department of Education (DOE) proposal phasing out the Jamaica school.

Teachers and parents, along with some students debated the proposal, sometimes angrily, and asked DOE Director of Public Affairs Lenny Speiller about the future of the school.

Third-grader Demir Rogers-Barker stood with her mother, Deshanna Barker, and said, “Everyday I walk out of this school, I feel like a new person.”

The DOE is proposing that Jamaica’s students and staff of P.S.30 andP.S.40 along with Richmond Hill High School and August Martin High School, be phased out. The Panel of Educational Policy will vote on the proposal during a public meeting at 6 p.m. on February 1.

In the case of P.S. 30, a new school would open in the building as early as September and begin enrolling kindergarten, first grade and second grade students.

“This school is amazing,” said 5th grade teacher at P.S. 30 Jamaal Williams. “We cannot close this school and at the end of the day the children and the staff have the ability to suc- ceed. This is a place of learning.”

According to the DOE, P.S. 30 has struggled for years. Last year, only 27 percent of students were on grade level in English and only 31 percent were on grade level in math. P.S. 30 earned an overall D grade last year on its Progress Report with an F grade for School Performance and C grades in both Student Progress and School Environment sub-sections.

“Those stats are pretty telling,” Speiller said to Jamaica resident Elaine Jackson when asked for specifics on why the closure was being considered. “The school has struggled for a while.”

It’s the same story for P.S. 40, which earned an overall D grade on its 2009-10 Progress Report and at Richmond Hill and August Martin high schools the graduation rates have remained below 50 percent for more than five years.

Richmond Hill saw modest improvement in the school’s graduation rate. It rose to 48 percent in 2009, but it remains well below the 63 percent citywide average. The New York State Education Department named Richmond Hill as one of the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” schools in the entire state.

At this point, the DOE has no specific plans for Richmond Hill but is developing an action plan that may include phasing the school out or simply replacing staff, changing leadership and introducing a new program.

“Closing schools should not be an alternative,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D- Howard Beach). “These are tough fiscal times for both the city and state and we have to make cuts because we can’t afford certain services anymore but we need to collectively do a better job to minimize cuts to education."

The DOE has scheduled a joint public hearing at P.S. 30 at 6 p.m. on January 27 where it hopes to hear an action plan put together by teachers, parents and school administrators on how to move P.S. 30 from a D to an A grade on its Progress Report.

“At one time this was an excellent school,” said State Senator Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). “We’re going to do everything we can to make this right.”

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