By Phil Corso
The community’s opposition to the co-location of another school at Queens Village’s Martin Van Buren High could not be more clear as everyone readied themselves for Wednesday’s official vote on the plan.
Administrators, parents, elected officials and students filed into the school’s auditorium last week for a meeting on the matter even though their opposition to the plan had been on display in the months prior. A total of 41 speakers registered to speak at the city Education Department’s joint public hearing, offering their input on a city plan to install a new early college and career technical education school known as P-Tech to help students attain associate degrees.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was one of several elected officials to speak against the plan, including City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), saying it would undo the progress Van Buren has been working toward since hiring a new principal to turn the school’s reputation around.
“This proposed co-location at Martin Van Buren will have devastating consequences for the entire school community, especially student and teachers,” Avella said. “The new leadership I helped install at the school has finally begun to turn things around and, with the help of the community, Martin Van Buren was building towards a promising future.”
Last year, the school brought in Principal Sam Sochet with hopes of getting Van Buren back on track after it experienced a steady decline in its progress report grades. Sochet sat on the panel alongside parent members of the Community Education Council, who unanimously opposed the proposal with fears that the city would use it as a means to slowly weed out the current faculty and programs for new ones.
A small faction of residents — mostly civic leaders — also sat in the audience waiting for their turn to speak, offering reasons why they saw the plan to be a good idea. Members of nine borough civic organizations stood united in favor of the plan, arguing it would in fact complement the city’s efforts in restoring Van Buren’s reputation.
If the co-location is achieved, the city would place another school within Van Buren that would partner with Bayside’s Queensborough Community College to offer opportunities for an associate degree at no cost.
A DOE spokesman said Van Buren has seen a roughly 40 percent drop in applicants since 2010, which acted as a catalyst for the agency to consider co-locating a school into the same building.
“Across the city, we’ve transformed the landscape with our new school options — and we’ve been nationally recognized by President Obama for our visionary offerings,” DOE spokesman Devon Puglia said. “We’re delivering an incredible new early college and career technical education school for this community, one of only a handful from around the city. This will be a special new option that will deliver great outcomes for children, and we’re confident it will be in very high demand.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.