Seven Queens high schools to close: staff says turnaround shows ‘no democracy’

Seven high schools in Queens — and 17 more throughout the city — had their fates sealed after the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voted to close the schools on April 26.

Under the Turnaround plan, the schools — August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City (L.I.C), Newtown and Richmond Hill — will close at the end of this semester and will reopen under a new name in the fall. The non-graduating students at each school will all be guaranteed a seat.

According to the Department of Education (DOE), teachers at the Turnaround schools will have to reapply for their jobs. If 50 percent of the former teachers reapply, at least that amount will have to be rehired.

Erin Flanagan, a dean and physical education teacher at Flushing High School, called the Turnaround process “a professional Holocaust” and a “mass wiping out of teachers.”
“All the union wanted was equity, or else you have random acts of indiscretion,” Flanagan said. “The DOE set up the situation to act like they’re getting our input, but they make unilateral decisions. We’ve never had a choice. Everything is set up to show a democratic process, but there is no democracy here.”

The PEP is made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven others who are selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor’s appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the Turnaround plan, while the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.

Hours before the vote, the DOE announced Grover Cleveland in Ridgewood and Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn were saved from closure.
Prior to Thursday night’s vote, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the two schools have “shown positive signs in the last two years.” However, he said the other 24 schools clearly needed “comprehensive actions” to improve.
The DOE declined to comment on the decision after the vote.

“It is a horrible feeling to do exactly what you are being told by the mayor and chancellor – our attendance and graduation rates improved – and still be shut down,” said Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C.
Junior Michael P., 16, said morale at L.I.C. has plummeted.

“We go to class and we leave. There’s not much to talk about. There’s not much the students can really do. Everyone is just sad that there’s going to be no more L.I.C.,” said the straight-A student. “These teachers are the ones that helped me become the student I am. I wouldn’t be the same person without them.”

The seven closing Queens schools were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on an evaluation system.

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

According to a representative, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is hoping to take the decision to court.

“We are going to be looking at everything that has happened — at all the legalities that took place — and our attorneys will go over this,” said Dermot Smyth, the UFT’s Queens’ political action coordinator. “If there is an opportunity to take this to court, then we absolutely will. The reality is we know this was not done for any sound educational reason.”

Additional reporting by
Michael Pantelidis and Alexa Altman

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