Jamaica HS rallies against closing plan

Jamaica High School graduates City Councilman Mark Weprin (l. to r.) and state Assemblyman David Weprin look on while state Sen. Tony Avella speaks at a rally protesting the city's plan to close the school. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

Alumni, students and faculty came to Jamaica High School Sunday afternoon to protest the city Department of Education’s plan to close the school, which has served city students for more than a century.

The demonstration, organized by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), drew several dozen to the school’s historic auditorium for a rally and a performance by The Cleftones, an oldies band made up of former Jamaica students.

Though the crowd was relatively small compared to other rallies for the school, the energy level was high, as politicians, education officials and alumni all spoke out against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) graduated from Jamaica High in 1972, and he returned to the school Sunday to state his view that the institution should remain open to educate future generations.

“If there’s a problem with Jamaica High School, fix the problem, don’t eliminate the school,” he said. “It has a 100-year tradition and it’s a beautiful school.”

Speaker after speaker decried the policy of closing large, under-performing high schools and creating charter schools and smaller academies in their place, saying that such a program breaks up communities and will not be a panacea for the city’s education woes.

Nancy Giles, a writer for morning shows on CBS and an accomplished actor with roles on TV shows including “Spin City” and movies including “Big,” graduated from Jamaica High in 1977. She spoke emphatically against shuttering the school, saying it helps youngsters grow up to be educated, well-rounded adults.

“I love this school, I used to look at this school and it was like a college campus,” 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 and it taught me that education can level the playing field.”

Nick Brakshkis, a sophomore at Jamaica High who plays on the school’s tennis team, agreed with the speakers that the school, at 167-01 Gothic Drive, should remain open for him and his classmates.

“I want to keep our school open, it’s a good school,” he said. “The teachers are great and nice, they welcome you to the school and we have all the sports teams and everything.”

The city Panel for Educational Policy voted 11-1 to close Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools during a meeting that lasted into the early morning hours Feb. 4. The panel also voted to shut down 11 other schools across the city that had a large number of failing students and low school report cards. It had decided to close 10 other city schools three days earlier.

As part of the plan, Jamaica and Beach Channel will stop admitting freshman in the fall and new smaller schools will open inside their buildings.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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