Van Buren faces co-location

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

The city is considering the co-location of a charter school at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village that could cut 500 seats, a city Education Department spokesman said, despite borough leaders’ concerns.

Northeast Queens officials have been pulling for the school to bounce back under the guidance of new Principal Sam Sochet after its progress reports dropped from B in 2008 to C in 2012. And just as Sochet wrapped up his first year in charge, the higher-ups at the DOE confirmed a potential charter school could move into the Martin Van Buren building as early as the 2014-15 school year and force a reduction in current seats to accommodate the new facility.

DOE spokesman Devon Puglia said the Hillside Avenue high school was chosen in response to community calls for more educational opportunities in their neighborhoods. A formal proposal, however, has yet to be made.

“This new school will deliver great outcomes for neighborhood students,” Puglia said. “Parents in this community are clamoring for, and will continue to demand, more high-quality options, and we’re going to keep delivering them.”

But elected officials who have been advocating for the school’s rebound said the plan was, in fact, undermining the community’s efforts and counteracting any signs of recovery.

“I have made the rehabilitation of Martin Van Buren one of my top education priorities since taking office and strongly pushed to have new leadership installed at the school,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. “This new leadership has finally begun to turn the school around. Yet now, the [DOE] is set to undo all these positive changes with a proposed co-location, which will divert the necessary resources that Martin Van Buren needs to continue to thrive.”

Since Sochet signed on, civic leaders and elected officials said he has helped reform the school’s reputation as a neighborhood school. He launched a pre-medical program through North Shore-LIJ earlier this year and announced forensics and computer technology internship programs to attract more local students to the school.

“Principal Sam Sochet has made amazing strides toward making Van Buren a destination high school,” said City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens). “What the DOE is proposing could undo all of the progress the administration and teachers have made so far.”

City and state officials took to the school’s front steps Monday to call on the DOE to solicit public input before making any decisions final. Puglia also confirmed public feedback process would begin later this year before the plan is put to a vote at an October Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

“Reducing seats at Martin Van Buren High School is a slap in the face to our community, which has fought to turn around the school,” said state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows). “For 12 years, we have seen far too many comprehensive high schools experience co-location, resulting in underfunded programs, overcrowding classes and ultimately a spiral of academic decline.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

More from Around New York