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Parents and school administrators were set to pursue their fight to save Jamaica High School this Thursday with a public meeting at the historic campus’s auditorium.
The city Department of Education will be taking questions and answers from community members at 6 p.m. as part of its public review process for its proposal to phase out the high school. Before the meeting begins, parents and students were scheduled to hold a rally outside the school, at 167-01 Gothic Drive.
“They are very upset because this has been a traditional high school,” Jamaica High parent coordinator Rachel Andre said.
Last month the DOE announced that the 107-year-old school would be phased out starting in the next school year and smaller high schools would be placed inside the building. Jamaica High had an unacceptable graduation rate — 44.5 percent in 2008 and 46.2 percent in 2009 — and its school report card went from a C grade two years ago to a D grade last year, according to the DOE.
The DOE is slated to make a final decision on the phase-out later this month. The proposal shocked school officials, community activists and students, who said the institution had been improving its image.
After being put on the state’s “persistently dangerous schools list” in the fall of 2007, Jamaica High hired Walter Acham as its principal, who cracked down on bad behavior and within a year the school was taken off the state list.
The student body also led a successful effort to designate the Georgian Revival-style building a city landmark, and last March the city Landmarks Preservation Commission officially gave Jamaica High that title.
“The Department of Education said there hasn’t been any growth, but there is growth in the school,” Andre said.
Elected officials, including City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), have written to the city schools chancellor to rethink his proposal and give the school another chance.
Huntley said children in southeast Queens would be affected by the phase-out.
“The phasing out of Jamaica High School in 2010 will lead to the schools around Jamaica High School being even more overcrowded. Key programs already in the schools may no longer be implemented and students may suffer even more academically because they would have to go to a new school and adjust to new surroundings,” the senator said in a statement.
One Queens elected official, however, favors the phase-out, claiming the school is beyond salvageable. In an op-ed piece co-written with Pomonok tenant leader Monica Corbett, state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) said the low graduation rate was preventing teenage students from excelling as adults.
“No matter how you look at it, Jamaica is failing at this fundamental level,” the authors said. “Why shouldn’t the children of our community have the same opportunity as children from other communities to become doctors, architects, engineers or teachers themselves?”
Andre dismissed Mayersohn’s comments, claiming there was more to the school than just numbers.
“If you make a statement like that, you have to be in the school. You really have to look at the stats and have been here before and see it now to see the changes,” she said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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