There seems to be little hope that new city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott will reverse the city Department of Education’s plan to close Jamaica HS. This closure is a key part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education agenda and Walcott supported that agenda as a deputy mayor.
The decision to close the school was made without consulting the community or borough elected officials. Although he has Queens roots and experience in the public education system, Walcott was appointed to carry out a mayoral policy that says it is better to shut down failing schools rather than finding resources to get them back on track.
Next fall, Jamaica HS will close its doors to freshmen. Eventually, a new school will be opened in its place. The kids who are in the freshman class now will be the last class to graduate from Jamaica HS.
James Eterno, the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader for Jamaica HS, said that despite Walcott’s connection to southeast Queens, there is little hope he will stand up to Bloomberg. State Assemblyman David Weprin, who graduated from Jamaica HS in 1972, has joined in the fight to keep the school open for future generations.
But history, tradition and impact on the community appear to mean nothing to a mayor who runs New York City like a chairman of the board. In recent weeks, Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars on commercials designed to improve his public image.
The mayor would do better to keep that money in his wallet and spend more time listening to people in the outer boroughs. It is unfortunate he decided to discontinue the town-hall meetings that were part of the Giuliani administration. Had he not done so, he might have understood how much people resent the closing of schools.
Despite the spin from City Hall, there are plenty of former students with good things to say about Jamaica HS. Successful writer and actor Nancy Giles, who graduated from Jamaica HS in 1977, is opposed to shuttering the school.
“I love this school,” she said, “This school meant a lot to me. It taught me how to fight for what you believe in. It taught me to get along with all types of people.”
Are you listening, Mr. Walcott?