By Joe Anuta
Northeast Queens educators and civic leaders were deflated after the city’s plan to close Flushing High School was approved at a hearing last week.
“It’s something that many of us have come to expect,” said Ken Cohen, a Flushing civic leader and head of the local NAACP chapter. “It doesn’t matter how many people you get to speak out and come to rallies. Once you go into that hearing, you are done.”
Cohen and other activists led multiple rallies in the time between the mayor announced in January he would close high schools around the city and the city Panel for Educational Policy vote that put the final nails in Flushing’s coffin last Thursday.
Hundreds of people packed into a Brooklyn auditorium to listen to nearly four hours of public testimony last Thursday before the panel, made up of eight mayoral appointees and five representatives selected by each of the borough presidents, voted to shut down 24 schools.
The decision was derided by the teacher’s union as a political move to sack 50 percent of Flushing’s staff in order to receive federal funding given out to low-performing institutions.
“It was not because of anything that was taking place at Flushing HS,” said Dermot Smyth, the Queens representative of the United Federation of Teachers. “It was the mayor taking a position that was purely political.”
After Flushing HS was placed on a list of the worst schools in the state for three years in a row, it became eligible for federal funding to help it improve — on several conditions.
One of those conditions stipulated that the city Department of Education and the union needed to come to an agreement on teacher evaluations and how to get bad teachers out of classrooms.
The city has said the closure vote will allow it to fire weak teachers and pump more money into the schools in order to improve the school’s performance. Flushing HS went from a “B” grade in 2009 to a “D” last year, according to city report cards, although its graduation rate improved from 55 percent to 60 percent over the same period.
But teachers at Flushing HS said that in addition to interrupting the students’ education, the city is proposing few changes that were not already underway at the school and that the decision was only about getting rid of staff.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.