Queens high schools await judge’s ruling

Queens high schools await judge’s ruling
Flushing High School
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

The city was dealt another blow last week to its plan to restructure seven struggling Queens high schools, leaving it unclear which staff will be at those schools — and even what they will be named — come September.

In April, the city Panel for Educational Policy voted to approve Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to close 24 low-achieving schools across the city, replace more than half the teachers and reopen them under new names in the fall under the model known as turnaround.

Seven borough high schools — Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Flushing HS, August Martin HS in Jamaica, Richmond Hill HS, John Adams HS in Ozone Park, William Cullen Bryant HS in Astoria and Long Island City HS — were given the axe, and the city Department of Education began the process of reshaping the schools, including introducing new principals, removing teachers and announcing new school names.

Last week, though, state Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis denied the city’s request to continue making changes while the court decides on an arbitrator’s ruling that the plan violates union contracts.

In June, arbitrator Scott Buchheit ruled that the city’s plan to restaff the schools and open them under new names in the fall did not actually constitute opening new ones, and therefore violated the city’s contracts with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.

Lobis told the city to sit tight and scheduled a hearing for July 24.

The city stands behind the turnaround plan, insisting that in the end it benefits students the most and will be upheld in court.

“Our goal is to turn around these failing schools and help our students succeed. We appreciate the judge setting an expedited schedule to hear our challenge to the arbitrator’s decision so that we can meet that goal,” said Michael Cardozo, the corporation counsel at the city Law Department. “The judge also made it clear that she wants to consider the case fully. We believe that, after she reviews our papers, she’ll conclude that the arbitrator was wrong.”

The DOE would not elaborate on what staffing changes have already taken place, but sources said the transitions were well under way.

Alison Gozzi-Lewis, a Long Island City HS teacher with six years under her belt, said she received word she would be accepted at the new school in the fall June 29, the day of the arbitrator’s ruling.

She estimated about half the staff have already either found another job or were told they would not be coming back, and it is unclear at this point who will be working at the school in September.

“None of us are totally sure what’s going to happen,” she said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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