Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Community, alumni back keeping Jamaica HS open

On Jan. 7, a public hearing was held with city Department of Education representatives, the city School Leadership Team and the community to discuss the DOE’s proposal to close Jamaica High School. A capacity crowd of parents, students, alumni, civic association members and representatives from other schools slated for closing filled the school’s auditorium.

Of interest were the comments by some people that there seems to be a nationwide movement by business interests to close schools and replace them with for-profit charter schools. In New York state, charter schools cannot use public money to build new schools so they have to use vacated buildings.

The crowd chanted “Save our school” and wanted School Leadership Team Deputy Chancellor John White to stop reading the DOE’s proposals for the building and get on with the hearing. An SLT member commented that the DOE never gave him an exact reason for wanting to close the school and never said what they had done to correct the problems in the school.

The DOE has claimed Jamaica HS only has a 46 percent graduation rate, but the parents on a Fact Sheet said the rate is nearer 70 percent. The parents are unhappy many special education and English Language Learners are judged the same as other students when they need extra time and assistance to graduate.

The current principal has only been in the school since 2007 and needs more time. A few years ago, the school reported all infractions by unruly students and was given a “dangerous” rating and the DOE sent a letter to all parents. But the next year, when there were few incidents and the school was considered normal, the DOE never notified parents or the community.

State Assemblymen Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), David Weprin and City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) spoke in favor of maintaining Jamaica HS. The Weprin brothers and Comrie graduated from it. Community Board 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide spoke on behalf of CB 8, saying it supported the parents but would not have it in writing until the board met the next week.

A Beach Channel HS student spoke in support of Jamaica HS and proposed they form an alliance. Then the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader from there said students learn at different rates, a fact city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg do not seem to understand. He said the DOE lied to them about where displaced students would attend school when their school closed.

The UFT chairman of Francis Lewis HS told the audience his school was overcrowded and could not handle any more students, especially those who need special help.

Robert Caloras, the Community Education Council 26 chairman, noted that the DOE said the school is failing, but in the annual survey 88 percent of parents believed it was a good school. He said the proposed four schools for the building are designed for English literature majors and nothing was mentioned about teaching for a world of computers and technical jobs and helping students in need.

The Rev. Norris from Jamaica said his son graduated from the school and questioned whether statistics are manipulated to make the school look bad. Debbie Ayala of the Jamaica Hill Civic Association spoke in favor of the outstanding Gateway, robotics and finance programs in the school.

Various speakers said money should be put into Jamaica HS and not for the proposed literary schools and that four principals in a building is a waste of millions of dollars. Several Jamaica HS alumni said the Gateway program helped them succeed.

The UFT director of staff spoke in support of the school by saying it received good proficiency ratings and that there is unhappiness as to where the money to reduce class sizes voted by the state Legislature has gone. Jackie Forrestal of the Jamaica Estates Civic Association wanted to know exactly where the displaced students would go in September.

With so many people supporting the DOE’s desired school closings, and considering that some newly created small schools are on the chopping block, one wonders if the DOE knows what it is doing.

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