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Grover Cleveland fights turnaround

The community spoke out for Grover Cleveland High School, which the city Department of Education wants to place in turnaround.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Parents and teachers have a lot to say about the city Department of Education’s turnaround method for schools.

That was the case at St. Aloysius Church in Ridgewood, where students joined parents and teachers to voice their dissatisfaction with the DOE’s proposal to overhaul the staff — and the name — at Grover Cleveland High School, at 21-27 Himrod St.

The DOE has submitted turnaround proposals for eight borough high schools — Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City, Newtown, August Martin, Richmond Hill, John Adams and Grover Cleveland — resulting in the closure of each school at the end of the academic year and its reopening under a different name in the fall, along with the replacement of 50 percent of the faculty.

Elaine Gorman, chief executive for the turnaround program at the DOE, said the city lost significant federal funding when an agreement on teacher evaluations could not be reached with the United Federation of Teachers union.

By deciding to put weak schools in the turnaround program, which does not require teacher evaluations, the city can apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant funding from the state.

“We’re not talking about splitting up the school, we’re not talking about closing the school,” said Gorman. “We will look to put the best teachers in the classrooms with the students. The new school will build on the strongest elements of the current school. Excellent teachers in every classroom has always been the goal.”

Many of the teachers in attendance spoke specifically about the issues faced every day at Grover Cleveland HS.

“Teachers look at each other and say, ‘Why are we going to put our blood, sweat and tears into this and then in June we’re out of a job?’” said science teacher Russ Nitchman. “We’ve made improvements here and we’re working our butts off. We’ve got a great staff doing great things for the kids here and yet you want to disrupt it.”

Attendees also spoke about the large number of English as a Second Language students the school takes on.

Krystyne Levy, a teacher for 18 years, said it takes five to seven years for ESL students to learn a language in an academically acceptable manner. She believes the DOE should take this into account when examining graduation rates.

“If the school goes through turnaround, how is this going to change?” she asked.

Anyone who wants their comments on the public record is invited to voice an opinion at Grover Cleveland High School’s official closure hearing April 2 at 6 p.m. at the school.

Michael Hetzer, vice president for Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, said it is important to look beyond statistics.

“Education eliminates ignorance,” said Hetzer. “I think the community needs to be educated about what Grover Cleveland really is. The upcoming meeting on April 2 will provide an opportunity to do just that.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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