Dewey H.S. avoids ‘impact’ status - DOE backs off on plans to crackdown on Stillwell Avenue school – QNS.com

Dewey H.S. avoids ‘impact’ status – DOE backs off on plans to crackdown on Stillwell Avenue school

By Helen Klein

Not an impact school That was the good news brought back to John Dewey High School by Principal Barry Fried after a February 9 meeting with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “At this time I am pleased to report that it does not seem likely that we will be named an impact school,” wrote Fried to staff members in a memo dated February 12th. The statement represents a significant change of posture on the part of the Department of Education (DOE), which prior to the meeting had told this paper, “The likelihood is slim that it will not be an impact school.” Instead, said Fried, the school – which is located at Stillwell Avenue and Avenue Z — has been asked by the DOE to create “a processing room for students who are cutting class,” as well as to develop, “Additional space with an ‘instructional focus’ for students who are loitering in the halls when the resource centers, library and student cafeteria are in full use.” The news was warmly welcomed by Dewey faculty, who had mobilized to fight the impact school designation, contending that the school was being unfairly evaluated. Rather, they said, Dewey is a successful high school, and a thriving experiment in education that has lasted for 39 years, featuring a range of innovative teaching approaches born of Dewey’s philosophy, which encourages learning by doing and creative thought over rote memorization. Not being named an impact school, said teacher C.T. Chan, “Is a tremendous help. It means we’ll be able to recruit.” Being put on the impact school list, he added, “Would have been a distraction. Now, basically, the monkey is off our back.” Adding a detention center, remarked teacher Wade Goria, “Sounds like a reasonable idea. We’re very happy to be safer, and we want to make the school better. Right now, there is a synergy between the faculty and administration and the Department of Education where everyone is working in a common effort to make the school better. “We’re grateful that the Department of Education has understood the situation,” Goria went on. “They’re demonstrating a clear willingness to work with us to make the school better and for that we’re happy and grateful.” One highlight of the school’s innovative approach is the extended day program — which provides students with the time to do independent research at resource centers maintained in each discipline, and work one-on-one with teachers. “Dewey worked in the past and it still works, in part because we get special students, who are willing to devote themselves to the extended day,” Goria emphasized. “The ideal child at Dewey is one who wants to reach or exceed their potential, and is possessed of an attitude that they can succeed.” The system in effect at Dewey has reaped recognition. Six years ago, the school received an award for excellence from the United States Department of Education as a year 2000 Showcase Site. Last month, it received the highest rating, “well-developed,” from an educational consultant, Castle Consultancy, hired by the Department of Education (DOE) to evaluate schools around the city. In part, the recognition the school has received grows from the fact that students who attend Dewey are taught to use the degree of freedom built into the Dewey educational system to grow and mature. “That’s one of the key things that Dewey said, if you treat kids like adults, they will become adults,” Goria noted. “The Dewey idea is wonderful but it takes support, giving us students that we’re going to be able to educate in the way we want. People with very low reading scores or bad behavior problems are not going to fit in.” One of the school’s strengths, added Chan, is its diversity. “We have no one major ethnic group here, and everybody mixes very well,” he remarked. “They break out of the ethnic cocoon and try to integrate with each other.” Looking ahead, Jim Harmon, who teaches advanced placement classes, said he hoped that a screened honors program could be created for the school. “We want to bring balance back to the school, where there are upper end kids as well as less gifted ones,” he noted, expressing a fear that the “boutique schools” being created by DOE were “skimming off the most talented kids. “We want to redress the balance,” Harmon stressed, “and keep the comprehensive high schools alive, particularly this place, which is so unusual.”

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