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Martin Van Buren High School may get new lease on life

TimesLedger Newspapers

There may be light at the end of the tunnel for the nightmare faced by families zoned for Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village. MVB evokes wonderful memories for its alumni, but while its former reputation as a community school with high graduation rates is well-known, it has since fallen on hard times and by any objective measure of success is a failed school.

The once-heralded promises of social engineering have transformed MVB from a school with deep community roots into one where nearly 96 percent of its student population comes from outside the community. Is it any wonder that for a time, there was no PTA? With dismal graduation rates, a school report card grade wavering between C and D, delinquency and truancy problems exacerbated by students forced to travel one to two hours daily, this storied institution has become a shell barely recognizable by its former students.

Bobby Sher, president of the nearby Bell Park Manor cooperative, needed to install almost 100 cameras throughout the community to prevent student trespassing, fighting and vandalism.

Reacting to strong community pressure, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott brought in a new principal, Sam Sochet, who has proven to be a dedicated administrator, popular with the local community and an energetic dynamo. Nevertheless, Sher laments, “Sochet was handed a disaster, and turning this school around is a herculean task that will take more than one person.”

That turnaround might be at hand if the chancellor gets his way. An unprecedented federally funded program would place a school within a school at MVB. The so-called P-Tech would partner with Queensborough Community College and offer a focus on technical skills and job preparation. Graduates would be eligible for an associate program at QCC at no cost. The promise of a tuition-free degree and attendance at a new school that will be drawing its student base from the city’s No. 1 school district will attract local parental attention and create enormous momentum for the MVB hub.

For the first time in decades local community parents will have a reason to send their kids to MVB. That type of local community participation and parental involvement will bring about a metamorphosis. Sher compares it to winning the lottery.

“For MVB to be the only high school selected to be offered this special program is like hitting the jackpot [for this community’s school kids and parents],” he said. “We won’t have to be embarrassed anymore when prospective new residents of the co-op ask why there are no children from Bell Park Manor attending the school.”

But change does not come easily. Inertia and stagnation are potent forces to be reckoned with. Walcott and the community know creative measures are needed, and the new P-Tech plan may just be the recipe. Recently, some elected officials and several civic groups held a widely covered press conference to denounce the plan. This knee-jerk reaction to proposals coming out of the city Department of Education’s lame duck administration may be understandable, but in this case was misguided.

As president of Glen Oaks Village, a community of 3,000 families zoned for MVB, I believe this plan is a feasible blueprint with enormous potential. Most local civics have since come around and now support it. I am hopeful local politicians will take a second, more careful look at P-Tech and follow the example of the local civics.

But do not be surprised to see some vested-interest stakeholders opposing P-Tech. Some of the plan’s opponents claim the program will drain resources from MVB. If the program succeeds, Sochet’s supporters fear it might be used to challenge his effectiveness after three years. And in the case of the United Federation of Teachers, its No. 1 concern is union teaching jobs.

Such shortsighted vision does not mesh with the community’s longterm desire to bring MVB’s standards of achievement to a level that attracts an academically motivated student population from the local community. The P-Tech proposal is the game-changer that will lead to local student participation and restore a sense of pride in MVB and its future.

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SUSAN DRUSS from JAMAICA says:
In response to an article written by Mr. Bobby Friedrich in the Times Ledger on October 6, 2013:
“There may be light at the end of the tunnel for the nightmare faced by families zoned for Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village. MVB evokes wonderful memories for its alumni, but while its former reputation as a community school with high graduation rates is well-known, it has since fallen on hard times and by any objective measure of success is a failed school.”
In response to Friedrichs one sided rant, the question arises as to who made this tunnel that Mr. Freidrich first sees a light? In fact, the Obama administration, whom I favor, made a 20 percent reduction in funding toward career and technical education and an 11 percent increase in education funding. One size does not fit all.
Vocational programs are an essential part of reaching those students who are at risk of being left behind. Those students who find high school too difficult often end up taking low-skill, minimum wage jobs with a dismal and unfulfilled future. During difficult economic times this jobs are the first to be cut because they are considered non essential. The Mayor and Governor of this city did not increase funding for these programs for our students or any others. They decreased the budget so much that buying pencils, enough to supply the schools, was a major feat.
And please let us not forget the directive from the Bloomberg administration to have “Consultants” come into the schools and help improve the teaching methods of teachers (Professional Development), one from Australia????…..for hundreds of thousands of dollars and having a CFN (Children First Network Leader) come into our school to help advance the rating and performance of our school. She’s gone, can’t find her and not only did she not help, but hurt our school with a lower overall grade because she knew nothing about our students and their needs . Her advice was to be followed to the letter, as per the Bloomberg administration and Chancellor, in transforming our school and giving us the programs we needed for our students. Right………Never happened.
Where were you when this Administration pushed in low achieving at risk students to our school with no regard for programs inside our school or after school? Granted, our students come from all across the city….did you contact the Mayor and the Department of Education then when we were overcrowded, understaffed and under budgeted? I don’t remember hearing anything from you when ESL and Learning Disabled students were forced to take Regents exams and pass them or not be able to graduate even though they passed their classes? Again, I say, one size does not fit all.
As per Chaz: “The Bloomberg/Klein strategy of closing down the large public high as the PEP approved closing down a record 19 schools in one week, despite thousands of parents, students, and teachers who protested and spoke against their closings.” The destructive policies of the DOE have led to the downfall of the once renowned Jamaica High School, Richmond Hill, John Adams, etc. Where were you when we were protesting and fighting, thankfully, with the help of the UFT to keep these schools open? Now you want to give the OK to do this to our school, Martin Van Buren H.S.
You mention Bobby Sher, President of the Bell Park Manor Coops, had to install 100 cameras to protect its residents from fights, trespassing and vandalism. All worthwhile coop facilities have cameras for such reason, especially in the garage area of the property. Not to mention, Bell Park Manor is on a major highway where anyone can do damage and/or harm. What makes you think the problem for this community is only and/or mainly our high school. You also mentioned at the SLT Meeting held at Martin Van Buren High School the loss of property value in your community….I have a friend who purchased property 15 years ago in your community. The purchase was a one bedroom coop for $40,000. According to real estate notices for your community the property value for a one bedroom coop is $174,000. See the original advertisement below. So excuse me if I find your reasoning faulty and unsubstantiated.
Coop in Glen Oaks, Queens NY 11004 $174,900
1 Bed 1 Bath | Web ID: PH173372
Main Floor One Bedroom Close To All, Crown Molding In Living room, Oak Kitchen, Freshly Painted, South Facing Exposure per Fligel.com

You also failed to inform us that you had a forum that would permit publishing of your narrow views of information projected at the SLT meeting that you attended.

Oh yes, I don’t want to leave out your condescending attitude toward Mr. Sam Sochet, Principal, Administration, staff, our teachers and the UFT.

Mr. Sochet, Principal of Martin Van Buren High School, has moved mountains, along with his administration, to partner with Queensborough Community College and Long Island Jewish Hospital to bring wonderful programs to our school, such as Pre-Med, Pre-Engineering, EMT, Robotics, and don’t forget a $4 million grant to our school for the supplies, equipment and instructors making a pathway for our students to go to college and continue their education if they so wish.

You state that the vested interest of the UFT regarding our teachers and their jobs could bring adversity. You Bet, Mr. Friedrich. Teachers are not the villains. Teachers give their all to help children succeed. I know they do. My family are all teachers. My ancestors were teachers…not here but in Europe. We know that they only thing that you can take with you wherever you go is you knowledge and brain. How many teachers in your development know of your casual and disdain attitude towards teachers and their jobs? Do you not understand that they have families, mortgages, expenses and a life that they must have a job to continue.

Our school deserves to have the P Tech program without a co-location. We are able to do this program by ourselves without another school coming in and stealing our facilities.

Oh by the way, Mr. Friedrich, the students would be the same students you and Mr. Sher object to. According to the Department of Education, there will be no restriction on the students entering the P Teach program. The only restriction, probably, will be space.

You owe the Administration, teachers, staff, parents and students an apology for your near sighted and uninformed articles. I am certain the voters in Mr. David Weprin’s district knew what they were doing when they re-elected him. He is a person for ALL the people, not just a few.
Oct. 14, 2013, 7:03 pm

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