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Changes abound as students head back to school

School Construction Authority Vice President Bruce Barrett (r.) and staffers celebrate the opening of a new school in Hunters Point. Photo by Nat Valentine
TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens students headed back to school Monday morning for the first day of classes in the final school year of the Bloomberg administration.

Across the borough, the day marked firsts and lasts for schools emblematic of the mayor’s controversial educational policies.

In neighborhoods like Cambria Heights and Flushing, new schools opened their doors to inaugural classes in a process that will slowly replace the struggling institutions that came before them over the next few years.

At the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights, it was the first day for the Institute for Health Professions, a new career-technical education school that will offer graduates a degree with a certification as either a nursing assistant or an emergency medical technician. The school will grow one grade each year as two high schools with poor graduation rates are phased out.

It is the same situation for two new schools that will eventually replace Flushing High School. One of the schools, Queens High School for Language Studies, will offer programs catering to Mandarin speakers and students interested in learning the language.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Jamaica High School, which opens its doors on its final year. The city Department of Education began phasing out the storied institution in September 2012 to make way for four smaller, individualized schools within the landmarked building. The school will be completely phased out by the end of the year.

Queens parents will be looking ahead at a number of reforms this year.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the borough president’s appointee to the citywide panel that votes on significant changes to schools, said parents are concerned about their children being adequately prepared to take tougher state tests implemented last year.

“Nobody wants to hear their child is failing, especially when they really aren’t,” he said. “Our teachers and administrators do their jobs. Sometimes a change of this nature just takes time, but they need to be provided with the tools to get it done, which will happen.”

It is still unclear who will sit on the Panel for Educational Policy in the second half of the year or what its makeup will look like. The panel is staffed by a majority of mayoral appointees, and it has been criticized as a rubber stamp for his agenda.

The issues of school closures, phase-outs and co-locations have been both hallmarks of Bloomberg’s approach to education and lightning rods for criticism in the communities where they occur.

Despite being on his way out, Bloomberg has scheduled a handful of changes at Queens schools in his final semester.

The panel is scheduled to vote Oct. 30 on proposals to pair up some schools throughout the borough.

They include continuing a co-location in Elmhurst to accommodate a stalled construction project, co-locating a new school with PS 40 in Jamaica and co-locating charter schools with August Martin High School and IS 59 in Springfield Gardens.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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