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Hearings save Grover Cleveland

State Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, a graduate of Grover Cleveland High School, spoke at the city Panel for Educational Policy meeting. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Grover Cleveland High School was saved from the chopping block with only hours to spare last week before the city Panel for Educational Policy was set to vote on the city Department of Education’s plan to close 26 city schools, including eight from Queens.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the decision to remove the Ridgewood school from the closure list came after several weeks of public hearings and close examination.

“Over the past several weeks, during public hearings and visits from my senior leadership, we looked closely at schools whose performance and quality of instruction have shown positive signs in the last two years,” said Walcott. “We have come to believe that two of those schools — Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School — have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools.”

The panel did vote to close 24 city schools, including seven in Queens, during the meeting in Brooklyn last Thursday.

Under the turnaround proposed for Grover Cleveland HS, the school would have closed and reopened under a new name with up to half of the teachers being replaced. At public hearings, including a packed gathering in Ridgewood April 2, school advocates said Cleveland had shown improved graduation rates in recent years and was also rated as proficient on a quality review.

Principal Denise Vittor, who announced Cleveland would remain open over the school’s loudspeaker, said she could hear screams of joy through the hallways.

“The school is very emotional right now,” she said. “Everyone is hugging and kissing.”

Grover Cleveland began this school year partnered with educational nonprofits in a federal program known as transformation — implemented to assist the school with numerous issues, including its graduation rates.

The program was expected to last three years, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this past January that the more aggressive turnaround model would be implemented.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) applauded the DOE’s decision to keep Grover Cleveland HS open and allow it to continue its work to improve.

“This news is a testament to the hard work of the school community, the students, parents and teachers and Principal Vittor at Grover Cleveland,” said Crowley. “I was proud to stand with the community protesting the turnaround model, and I am relieved the DOE has listened to common sense and will keep the school open. We must continue to fight for the remaining schools that are still slated for closure.”

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said while she was glad Grover Cleveland HS was spared from the closure policy, seven other Queens schools were not so lucky — despite overwhelming opposition from students, parents, teachers and community leaders.

“The mayor and the Department of Education forced through this unfortunately named turnaround method,” she said. “Decision-makers failed to demonstrate any independence in the vote, acting in lockstep with the mayor and recklessly placing 24 city high schools on the chopping block with total disregard for the best interest of our students and the widespread community support for preserving these neighborhood institutions.”

The high schools in Queens slated for closure include Richmond Hill, John Adams, Newtown, William Cullen Bryant, August Martin, Flushing and Long Island City.

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

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