By Rebecca Henely
Western Queens officials were disheartened and angry after the city Panel for Educational Policy voted last week to close three high schools in the area.
Newtown, Long Island City and William Cullen Bryant high schools were three of the seven in Queens and 24 throughout the city that the panel decided should be shuttered or sent through the “turnaround” model due to graduation rates of less than 60 percent in previous years.
All three western Queens high schools will be closed at the end of the 2011-12 school year and reopened with a new name and at least 50 percent new staff.
“It’s very frustrating and disappointing,” said state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst). “It really didn’t have to come down to this. There was definitely a better way.”
Newtown HS, at 48-01 90th St. in Elmhurst, is within Peralta’s district and the senator went to Flushing HS, which will also be closed. Peralta characterized the process behind closing the schools as one that lacked transparency.
While some schools initially marked for closure were saved, such as Grover Cleveland HS in Ridgewood, or were taken off the list of proposed closures before the voting like Queens Vocational and Technical HS in Sunnyside, Peralta said he was unsure why certain schools got the ax and others were spared.
The senator said Newtown HS faced multiple challenges as a school since it has 1,000 English language learners and takes in students who are transferred out or have behavioral issues.
“It’s going to take a little bit more for them to reach the same level,” Peralta said.
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), whose district covers both Long Island City and Bryant high schools and who is an alumna of Bryant, said she was both disappointed and angry over the decision.
“I believe that this is not going to benefit the students,” Simotas said. “I believe it’s going to disrupt their education.”
Long Island City HS is at 14-30 Broadway in Astoria and Bryant is at 48-10 31st Ave. in Astoria.
Bryant HS had been marked for the transformation model last year, which institutes additional instructional and support system services. Simotas and other advocates said its graduation rates were steadily increasing, especially after a different principal was hired two years ago.
“Bryant was a school on the rise,” Simotas said. “It was really turning its numbers around.”
The other closed schools included August Martin HS in Jamaica, John Adams HS in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill HS.
Both Peralta and Simotas said the closures should be considered when mayoral control comes up for renewal in 2015.
“It’s something that the state Legislature should really think about,” Simotas said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.