By Anna Gustafson
While city officials were ordered by the courts to keep Jamaica High School open this year, the school has still suffered as staff were laid off, advanced placement courses were cut and class sizes increased, Jamaica’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader James Eterno said.
The city Department of Education, however, said shrinking teaching staff was tied to a drop in enrollment at the school and ï»¿expect class sizes to decrease as the year progresses.
Eterno told Community Board 8 members at their meeting last week that many at Jamaica High believe city officials have essentially turned their backs on students at the school, which was slated for closure last year, but a state appellate court ruled in July that the city could not shut it.
“The Department of Education did not take kindly to us surviving,” Eterno said at the Nov. 10 meeting. “They’ve decided to starve our kids of resources.”
Since school ended last year, Eterno said the city has cut Jamaica’s teaching staff by 30 percent, reduced the high school’s size by about half in order to implement two new, smaller schools — The Hillside Arts & Letters Academy and the High School for Community Leadership — raised class sizes above what UFT standards allow for and cut elective and advanced placement classes.
“Our kids who need help can’t get it, and our advanced kids can’t get college credits,” Eterno said.
Queens Collegiate High School is the fourth school within the physical Jamaica High building, which was designated a city landmark last year.
“The new schools were allowed to come in, which has resulted in separate but unequal schools in the same building,” Eterno said. “Basically, they’ve left the place a mess but are still asking for the graduation rate to increase, which is impossible,” Eterno said.
DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said a decrease in the number of teachers happened because of fewer students in the school. He said he expects class size to drop.
“As principals are figuring out how to best use their space, you’ll see class size grievances from the UFT skyrocket,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said. “About half of them are withdrawn before they go to arbitration. Usually they work themselves out.”
The spokesman also said it is inevitable that Jamaica High would receive a different budget than the new schools because there is a lack of interest in Jamaica.
“Over the past five years, they’ve seen a 40 percent drop in enrollment,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said. “It’s a zoned school, and only 9 percent of students from the zone are going there. If families are leaving Jamaica in droves, that is going to mean a lower budget for them.”
City legislators and many community members have criticized the city DOE’s plan to close the school. City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) told DOE representatives at the Queens Borough Board meeting Monday night that the city should have looked to the extensive list of Jamaica High alumni for possible financial support.
“Jamaica High School is such a part of the fabric of New York City,” Weprin said at the meeting. “It seems like you’re wiping out the history of the city.”
DOE officials said earlier this month they may close schools they attempted to shutter last year, including Jamaica, Beach Channel HS in Rockaway Park and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship Magnet HS in Cambria Heights.
Officials stressed they have made no decisions about Jamaica, and Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the department is “going to a lot of effort” to meet with principals, the School Leadership Teams, parents and teachers at the schools.
City officials are expected to decide by early December what they plan to do with the schools, and the city Panel for Educational Policy will vote in January on the fate of the institutions.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.