Jamaica HS lacking: State

Jamaica HS lacking: State
Photo courtesy James Eterno
By Rich Bockmann

Critics of the city Department of Education’s plan to phase out Jamaica High School say a recent state report confirms their worst fears that the city has abandoned the students at the embattled institution.

“This basically confirms what I and state education people have been saying about the school for a long time,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has previously criticized the DOE for failing to support the students at Jamaica High as it phases the school out.

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

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 voted to begin phasing in the Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences High School, which would share the building, at 167-01 Gothic Drive, with the existing Hillside Arts & Letters Academy, the High School for Community Leadership and Queens Collegiate School.

Advocates have said that while students at the other schools benefit from the best resources and support, the remaining students at Jamaica High have been left with less-than-adequate resources.

The state Education Department recently released a report on Jamaica High based on a February 2012 site visit. 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.

Included in the report was a response from the DOE dated May 21 addressing the issues. According to the department, Jamaica HS had instituted an optional period for English, math and social studies honor classes and planned to partner with Gateway high school next year to offer AP and honors classes.

The two schools were also in discussions to collaborate on SAT preparation, which Jamaica High began offering March 24, according to the DOE.

The DOE said Jamaica High created room in its budget for a special education teacher, but the administration could not find one it found suitable.

James Eterno, a social studies teacher at Jamaica High and its United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, said the DOE’s responses were merely measures to placate critics and fell short of meaningful support for the approximately 700 students there last year.

“We’re basically operating a skeleton crew with skeletal programs,” he said. “That’s not what they promised these kids.”

Eterno said that as the phase-out process continues, Jamaica High loses more space and resources each year.

“They’re trying to save dollars in a way that makes no sense at all,” he said, adding that a recent court ruling blocking Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to close 24 struggling schools across the city gave him hope for the students at Jamaica High until the school is shuttered for good.

“Hopefully, this guy sees you’re not doing any favor to these kids by starving the schools,” he said.

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