H.S. Rejoices Over Last-Minute Rescue
Hours before the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) was slated to vote on the proposed elimination of Grover Cleveland High School under a “turnaround” reform model, the Ridgewood institution was granted a pardon by the Department of Education (DOE) last Thursday, Apr. 26.
The news was broken to students and teachers by Principal Denise Vittor through a midday announcement over the institution’s public address system-and “the whole building erupted in cheers,” she recalled to the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview.
“When the news came at the 11th hour, the mood was very different,” Vittor said. The Grover Cleveland community had been bracing for the worst possible outcome of the PEP vote later that night on the proposed “turnaround” reform plan which would have closed the school in June and opened a new one in its place in September.
But the uncertain and pessimistic feeling which filled the school when the bell rang that morning quickly gave way to total ecstacy and jubilation once Vittor announced that Grover Cleveland would get its chance to improve on its own terms.
“They (the DOE) said that we showed evidence that we could make the necessary changes in instruction and success and achievement without the drastic [cut of] 50 percent of the faculty,” she told this newspaper. “They re-evaluated how we were doing and that we could affect all the changes we needed without closing the school and renaming it.”
Vittor, who became Grover Cleveland’s principal last September, noted that the school had demonstrated that it was making gains and “improvements in all the metrics” under the restart model through January.
“They had faith in us that we could get the job done and improve student achievement,” Vittor added. She gave much credit to everyone involved in the school, local elected of- ficials and others in the surrounding community for working together to stop the turnaround plan at Grover Cleveland.
In a statement published in The New York Times’ “School Book” blog, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that Grover Cleveland and a second high school also spared last Thursday, Bushwick Community High School, “demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools.”
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Queens PEP Member Dmytro Fedkowskyj, both of whom graduated from Grover Cleveland, formally announced the school’s salvation in a joint press release issued last Thursday morning at 11:14 a.m., about seven hours before the PEP hearing that would have otherwise decided the school’s fate.
“We are appreciative and grateful that the New York City Department of Education has removed Grover Cleveland High School from the ‘turnaround’ list,” they said. “They have recognized the strength and improvement under Principal Denise Vittor and all the excellence that the Grover Cleveland community offers.”
“This news is a testament to the hard work of the school community, the students, parents and teachers and Principal Vittor at Grover Cleveland,” added City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley in a statement, who noted that she was “relieved that the DOE has listened to common sense and will keep the school open.”
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, in his own statement, applauded those associated with Grover Cleveland High School for their successful efforts to save itself, saying that that they “earned the right to have it remain open.”
“All along I have stated that the restart program that has been working there should be allowed to progress as promised, and that the school and its students should be the recipients of future educational resources,” Addabbo said.
Members of District 24’s Community Education Council (CEC 24) passed a resolution two nights earlier at their Apr. 24 meeting calling on the DOE to abandon the turnaround proposal at Grover Cleveland. Nick Comaianni, CEC 24 president, told the Times Newsweekly that he was grateful that the DOE listened to the council’s input and the appeals from the community in sparing Grover Cleveland from the turnaround model.
“We showed them the numbers and that [Vittor] made the school go up quite a bit,” Comaianni said. “We showed them how she’s working well. The DOE asked us to pass a resolution to that effect”; after CEC 24 passed the resolution last Tuesday, the council president stated that “we had another conversation” with DOE officials, which led to the lastminute reprieve for Grover Cleveland.
“They took our input on it and it worked out well,” he added. “It was definitely a step in the right direction. They did listen to us. This is the way it should be.”
“Grover Cleveland was once school that needed another chance,” Comaianni concluded.
Last year, the DOE implemented the “restart” model for Grover Cleveland after the high school was identified by the state Education Department as being “persistently lowest achieving” due to low graduation and attendance rates. The restart model allowed the school to partner with a educational resource organization on enhanced programs and enabled it to receive additional funding provided by the federal government.
But this funding was lost by the city after the DOE and the United Federation of Teachers failed to agree upon a teacher evaluation program by the Jan. 1, 2012 deadline.
With the funding gone, the restart model at Grover Cleveland was shelved. In February, the DOE announced that it would instead implement the turnaround model at the high school, leading to its closure and reopening and the potential elimination of up to half of its current faculty. The model would have also made the school eligible to receive over $1 million in federal funding annually for support programs.
Now that Grover Cleveland High School has been spared from undergoing the turnaround reform model, the DOE has yet to inform the school as to whether the restart program will be put back into effect. Vittor noted that she will be meeting with agency officials in the coming weeks to discuss the school’s support options.
“We’re so happy to be off the chopping block,” the principal added. “We know what we have to do. It’s just a matter of what level of support we’re going to get. … The DOE and the community have shown faith in us, and that is just as important as the support schools receive.”