Jamaica High’s Slow Death

Just one month before students return to school a state report makes it clear that the city long ago abandoned Jamaica High School.

For the city Department of Education, the failure of Jamaica High became a self-fulfilling prophecy. First it determined that this was a failing school and then the DOE began to squeeze the life out of it. Critics, including state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), say the recently released report confirms their worst fears.

“This is how you kill a school. You say it’s a failing school and you take away its resources and it fails,” Avella said.

Earlier this year an arbitrator blocked the city’s plan to close 24 other so-called failing schools because the plan violated the teachers union contract. But this will not save Jamaica High.

Citing more than a decade of low graduation rates, the DOE voted in early 2011 to close the school, phasing out one grade each year until 2014.

At the same time, the DOE began phasing in the Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences High School, which would share the building with the existing Hillside Arts & Letters Academy, the High School for Community Leadership and Queens Collegiate School.

The recent report released by the state Education Department was based on a site visit to Jamaica High in February 2012. The report found students at the school were not being offered honors or advanced-placement classes or calculus, chemistry, physics or SAT preparation courses. It also cited concerns there was no certified special education teacher.

So who has been failing the students at Jamaica High — the administration and teachers or the DOE? Critics say the resources provided to Jamaica High are far less than adequate while other schools have abundant resources.

“We’re basically operating a skeleton crew with skeletal programs,” a social studies teacher at Jamaica High said. “That’s not what they promised these kids.”

Like the people of Jamaica, we are adamant in our opposition to the closing of Jamaica High School. That won’t change. But at the very least we urge the DOE to make certain that the students remaining in this dying school are given resources equal to those given to at any other public high school in the city. That’s the least the DOE can do.

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