Officials will decide fate of eight Queens schools

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

The city was scheduled to decide the fate of eight Queens high schools at a public meeting in Brooklyn this Thursday evening.

The city Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the city Department of Education’s plan to close the poor-performing schools and reopen them as new schools with at least 50 percent of their staffs replaced in the fall.

The schools on the chopping block are Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, William Cullen Bryant HS in Astoria, Newtown HS in Elmhurst, Flushing HS, August Martin HS in Jamaica, Richmond Hill HS, John Adams HS in Ozone Park and Long Island City HS.

Those who wish to speak at the meeting at the Prospect Heights Campus, 883 Classon Ave., can sign up to do so from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m., and the panel will not vote until everyone who has signed up has been given their allotted two minutes.

In addition to the eight Queens high schools, there are 35 other items on the meeting’s agenda.

The panel — made up of city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, eight representatives selected by the mayor and five selected by each borough president — has never voted against the department’s recommendations. The Queens representative on the panel, Dmytro Fedkowiskyj, has said he would vote against the proposal.

Nine struggling Queens high schools were allocated more than $14.5 million in federal School Improvement Grants this school year to implement less-invasive improvement measures, but the state suspended those funds at the end of 2011 when the city and the United Federation of Teachers failed to come to an agreement on teacher evaluations.

Funding has been restored to every school district except New York City and Buffalo.

During his State of the City address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plans to put eight of the schools into the more drastic turnaround model. The DOE said Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City was not placed in the turnaround model based on its academic progress.

Bloomberg has said he intends to go ahead with the plan to close the schools regardless of School Improvement Grant funding, although the DOE said it will apply for the grants. The state Education Department said any future School Improvement funding will need an agreement on implementing the new evaluation system.

The cost of closing and reopening each school depends largely on how much of the staff is replaced.

If the panel votes in favor of closing the schools, it will be up to the DOE and UFT to screen each teacher and decide who stays and who goes. At least two of the schools, however — Flushing and Newtown — have already announced plans to introduce new principals.

John Choe, a Flushing community member who held a rally to keep Flushing HS open, said he was not surprised the city began making changes before the vote.

“That’s just the way they operate,” he said. “It’s cynical to go through the public hearing process after they’ve already began to implement the ‘proposal.’”

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

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