Council approves alternative plan to school closures – QNS.com

Council approves alternative plan to school closures

Jamaica High School is among the institutions that could be spared by the city's new School Transformation Zone plan to save failing schools.
By Ivan Pereira

The City Council unanimously approved a new measure Tuesday that could spare at-risk Queens high schools from shutting their doors, and the educational group that helped pushed for the plan said it could change the way schools operate.

The resolution to endorse the School Transformation Zone will be sent to the state and city Departments of Education and, if adopted by the agencies, would offer failing schools the chance to enter into a special agreement to avoid closure, according to the city Coalition for Educational Justice, the parent-based educational group that helped draft the plan.

Coalition parent leader Victoria Bousquet said the measure was a better solution than the DOE’s most recent proposal to close down 19 failing high schools throughout the city and replace them with smaller campuses in the same building. Three of the targeted schools were in Queens.

“The School Transformation Zone builds on successful school improvement strategies from across the country and gives schools a road map to increase student achievement,” she said in a statement.

The three Queens schools on the shutdown list — Jamaica High School, Beach Channel High School and the High School of Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship — could apply to be in the zone and to get federal funding to improve their campuses. In addition to the grants, schools that enter the zone would be required to restructure their academic methods.

The institutions would be mandated to extend both the school day and school year, train educators in a better way, reduce class size, offer support services for struggling students and give parents more involvement in the school’s decisions.

The zone would be led by “an expert educator with a track record in turning around struggling schools,” according to the coalition and a special committee consisting of parents, teachers and students would oversee the redesign process. The schools would remain in the zone for three years and if no improvement was made would then be subject to closure, the CEJ said.

The vote comes as New York’s school districts plan to file their requests on how to spend school improvement grants to help troubled schools. A spokesman for the city DOE said it would consider all options to upgrade schools before it submitted its request to the state.

“We will continue to engage parents and community leaders as we work to transform our lowest performing schools, win federal dollars for our students, and build on the progress we’ve made in improving student outcomes,” the agency said in a statement.

The city voted in January to close 19 high schools, including Jamaica, Beach Channel and the Campus Magnet school, but the decision was overruled by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge, who concluded that the city Panel for Educational Policy violated state law.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he hoped the city would take interest in the resolution and allow it to be instituted.

“I think it’s an important that we give schools the chance to [improve] themselves,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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