Qns. leaders decry plans to close failing schools

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (l. to r.), Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, and Borough President Helen Marshall discuss city officials proposal to possibly close 12 schools in Queens. Photo by Anna Gustafson
By Anna Gustafson

Queens lawmakers chastised city Department of Education officials at a Borough Board meeting this week over the DOE’s plan to potentially close 12 schools in Queens.

Legislators said the move to possibly shutter schools would not address the root of the school system’s problems in the borough, which a number of people at the meeting said was a lack of resources and support from the DOE.

“It bothers me there are so many schools on this list, and it’s only one borough,” City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said about the schools the DOE may close in the borough. “Sometimes I feel the DOE is not looking at people, they’re only looking at numbers.”

DOE officials at the Monday night Borough Board meeting emphasized that the schools may not be phased out — a term they use instead of “close” to mean the schools eliminate an incoming class each year until they no longer exist — but could also undergo a restructuring of leadership or a change in curriculum.

“We’ve made no decisions about the schools yet,” said Gabriella Fighetti, deputy director at the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management.

PS 30 and PS 40 in Jamaica, PS 147 in Cambria Heights and IS 231 in Springfield Gardens were for the first time placed several weeks ago on a list of schools that may be shuttered.

DOE officials also said they may close schools they attempted to shutter last year, including Jamaica High School, Beach Channel HS in Rockaway Park and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship Magnet HS in Cambria Heights. August Martin HS in South Jamaica, Grover Cleveland HS in Ridgewood, John Adams HS in Ozone Park, Newtown HS in Elmhurst and Richmond Hill HS have been placed on the state’s persistently low-achieving list, which means they could be phased out.

City officials are expected to decide by early next month what they hope to do with the schools, and the city Panel for Educational Policy will vote in January on the fate of the institutions.

Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said many of the schools on the list have high numbers of immigrant students or students from poorer households who need more resources from the DOE.

“We’re skeptical anything you do will actually change anything,” Weprin said. “It’s support the kids need, not getting rid of a principal.”

Fighetti said the smaller schools that are often implemented in a shuttered school’s physical space will better serve these students.

“The structure of small schools is more successful with more vulnerable students,” she said.

Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) echoed Weprin’s concerns and said the leadership change at Flushing High School was a “sham.”

“You’re not changing anything at Flushing,” Halloran said of the school that was labeled as struggling and just received a $1.8 million federal grant. “You’re leaving the principal and calling him the mentor principal, and you’re bringing in the assistant principal and calling him the principal.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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