Bryant HS loses fight to stay open

Students Francisco Meneses, 17, and Marcela Poenaru, 14, hand out signs for protesters at a rally to prevent Astoria’s Bryant High School from having half of its staff laid off or being closed all together during a rally in April 2011.
Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rich Bockmann

Amid a struggle with its teachers union, the city Department of Education has announced plans to close Astoria’s William Cullen Bryant High School, a move western Queens lawmakers have criticized as politically motivated and destructive.

Citing poor academic performance, the DOE identified Bryant, at 48-10 31st Ave., as a persistently low achieving school for the 2010-11 school yearand, under a plan known as transformation, replaced the principal and began to implement institutional reforms. Last year, Bryant had a four-year graduation rate of 57 percent, which put it in the bottom 17 percent of city schools.

Under the transformation model, which is considered the least intrusive of the city’s models for struggling schools, Bryant was eligible for up to $1.8 million a year in federal funding, but the state started withholding that money after the United Federation of Teachers and the DOE failed to reach an agreement on a teacher evaluation system by Jan. 1.

In his State of the City address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg disclosed his plan to place all of the city’s Persistently Lowest Achieving schools in the model known as turnaround, which closes the school and replaces more than half of the teachers as well as the principal, although Bryant’s principal would not necessarily be forced out because she is new under the turnaround program. The DOE anticipates this move will restore the federal funding.

State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), a Bryant alumna, called the plan short-sighted, unnecessary and destructive. She said the DOE had a meeting with the community and decided the transformation model was the best fit.

“Last year after a rally, the Department of Education agreed to the least intrusive model,” she said. “The mayor all of a sudden turned 180 degrees. The school hasn’t even had the opportunity to show the results.”

At a meeting in Brooklyn, the controversial city Panel for Education Policy will vote April 26 on whether or not to close William Cullen Bryant, as well as Grover Cleveland HS in Ridgewood, at the end of the school year and replace it with a new school for 2012-13.

The PEP has never voted against closing a school. The DOE was also expected to announce plans to close Long Island City HS, at 14-30 Broadway.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) criticized the move as an extreme measure that would be detrimental to students.

“Children’s education should supersede political posturing, which only further disrupts students’ time in the classroom,” he said, adding it would be disruptive to replace teachers who have been working with students for years.

“By the time new people come in and get their feet wet and learn how to do their job, in any institution that takes time. The students there will suffer while the learning process takes place,” he added.

William Cullen Bryant will host a public hearing April 3 at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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