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Jamaica HS gets poor grade

Photo by Ivan Pereira
By Rich Bockmann

Newly released figures by the state show Jamaica High School saw its graduation rate drop almost 40 percent the year the city started phasing out the troubled institution, and supporters of the school said the numbers are proof the school has been left to fail.

The historic high school graduated just 28 percent of its students last year, according to numbers the state Education Department put out earlier this month. That was down 37 percent from the year earlier.

The city cited more than a decade of graduation rates that hovered below 50 percent when it recommended in early 2011 that Jamaica High should be phased out over a three-year period and replaced with the Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences school, which had existed as a successful program within JHS.

Jamaica Gateway was one of the best performing schools in the 2011-12 school year, graduating 85 percent of its students.

James Eterno, a social studies teacher at Jamaica High and the school’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, said part of the problem is that high-achieving students head for Jamaica Gateway, leaving Jamaica High with a high proportion of pupils facing uphill battles to get to graduation day.

“I’d take everything you hear about Jamaica with a grain of salt,” he said, adding putting the two schools’ rates side-by-side was like comparing apples and oranges.

Last summer the state Education Department issued a report saying Jamaica High students were not being offered honors courses, advanced placement classes or SAT preparation courses.

Supporters of Jamaica High said its students were stripped of resources and left to languish while pupils in other schools at the campus had an abundance of resources.

“They didn’t have computers, they didn’t have smartboards, they had class sizes of 35 or more,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), a vocal critic of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s plan for Jamaica. “[Those students] are now a lost generation. They’re taking away resources and the students are disadvantaged and the graduation rate demonstrates that.”

All schools in New York City receive about two-thirds of their budget through a formulation known as Fair Student Funding, which allocates dollars based on the number of students and their needs, such as whether they are English Language Learners or students with disabilities.

Jamaica High lost about $1.8 million in its Fair Student Funding the first year of its phase-out.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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