By Ivan Pereira
Jamaica High School’s student body, alumni and elected leaders said they will not let the school die without a fight and want to get more answers from the city on why the historic campus has been targeted to close.
The city Department of Education announced a proposal last Thursday to phase out the school at 167-01 Gothic Dr. starting in the fall due to poor academic performance and a low graduation rate, according to a DOE spokesman. On Tuesday, the city announced a similar proposal for Beach Channel Drive High School in Far Rockaway, which has seen declining graduation rates and student scores over the last few years, and 15 other schools throughout the city.
The news came as a shock to many associated with Jamaica High because they contended it was doing well in terms of academics and safety.
“The teachers here are all right,” said sophomore Franklin Mendez, 16. “I’ve never thought this place was a bad school.”
The school community has already begun a rally effort to save the campus, according to students. Teachers began a signature petitioning campaign Friday and dozens of students have been contributing.
“They shouldn’t close because everyone is studying. Some people feel that getting C’s isn’t enough,” said sophomore Kasandra Matilde, 15.
Despite the student body’s optimism, the DOE said the school has not been providing students with adequate academics.
The school earned a D grade in the 2008-09 school report cards that were released last month compared to the C grade given last year. The grade was determined by measuring the school’s environment, grade performance and progress, according to the DOE.
Jamaica High’s most recent graduation rate for the last school year was 46 percent and officials said it was deemed unacceptable, according to DOE Deputy Chancellor John White.
“In a school where fewer than half of the students who arrive on Day 1 can expect to finish with a diploma the question, can we allow that situation to exist?” he asked.
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a alumnus, said the DOE was jumping the gun on the proposal, which could be finalized next month, because the school has staged a turnaround over the last two years.
In 2007, the state placed Jamaica High on its “persistently dangerous schools” list for poor security concerns, but after firing its former principal and instituting Walter Acham, who imposed stricter rules for tardiness and non-constructive behavior, it was taken off the list a year later.
Comrie said several parents and teachers have observed that students are working harder and proud to be going to Jamaica High, but the news of the possible closure could dissuade future teens from attending.
“They are basing this off test scores that were done when this principal was not under leadership. To even be slated is a slap in the face,” Comrie said.
The proposed closing comes months after the 107-year-old school celebrated a monumental recognition as a city landmark from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in May. White said the building, which also houses the Queens Collegiate High School, would be used by other DOE institutions if Jamaica High is phased out.
The DOE said those concerned about the proposals can provide feedback to the DOE before the department makes its final decision by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or attending a public hearing on the matter slated for Jan. 7 at the school.
In a letter to the DOE, Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who represent the area covering the high school, called for another meeting to discuss the situation and get more information on why Jamaica High was chosen by the department.
“We think the first step would be to get the complete picture from the Department of Education as to why they want to do this transformation and what they want to transform it into,” the councilman said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.