Local leaders and parents hope to expel the unpopular principal of a failing school.
According to PTA President Helen Young, Martin Van Buren High School is brimming with “ineffective leaders,” starting with Principal Marilyn Shevell, who several members of the community called “uninvolved.”
“The [city] still hasn’t gotten it right, and the parents want [these leaders] removed right now,” Young said at a rally held in front of the school on February 9. “I strongly feel that principal Shevell lacks the skill to be a leader and lacks the vision and ability to take our kids to their highest level. It’s time for a change in leadership.”
Martin Van Buren received a “D” in the most recent Department of Education (DOE) progress report, which is based on student progress toward graduation, performance on standardized tests and coursework and student attendance. The Bellerose school scored a “C” in the last two years as well.
“Clearly, the school is failing, and we need to change the leadership to get a new, fresh approach,” said Senator Tony Avella.
The Department of Education (DOE) recently moved eight low-achieving Queens high schools into the School Improvement Grant Program known as Turnaround — which involves the closure and immediate reopening of the school under a different name, along with the replacement of the principal and 50 percent of the teachers.
Although Martin Van Buren is not one of the eight schools slated for Turnaround, Avella said he wanted agency officials to take action before it’s too late.
“I don’t want a situation where next year they get another failing grade, and then you have to say to the community, to the parents and the students, ‘We’re closing the school.’ That’s going to happen unless something changes here. Let’s not dare wait until then. Let’s make the change,” Avella said. “We cannot allow another one of our neighborhood high schools to fail. We cannot let Martin Van Buren become the next Jamaica High School.”
Young said the now “hardly recognizable” school has become a site of plummeting morale since Shevell took over in 2002.
Likewise, sophomore Wendell F. expressed unrest inside the building, telling The Courier he recently got suspended from school after a female classmate punched him in the face.
“I didn’t hit her, but they still suspended me for five days,” he said. “The teachers and the deans, they don’t listen to any of the students. They just suspend us for anything, and we miss days of school. I’m upset about everything, the way they treat all of us. If they end up shutting down this school, I hope it gets reopened into a better school — or I hope they get a different staff.”
The DOE — who Shevell directed questions to — declined to comment.