Francis Lewis fears losing trailer space

By Kelsey Durham

Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows has a capacity of about 2,100 students, but today more than 4,000 are enrolled and many attend classes in one of the school’s eight outdoor trailers.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio tries to make good on a promise that dates back to the Bloomberg administration to rid New York City of its school trailers, Francis Lewis is one of many schools across the city left to worry about where to put those students.

“I would love to eliminate [the trailers], but if we do that, then we have nowhere to put our kids,” said Arthur Goldstein, chapter leader of the United Federation of Teachers at Francis Lewis. “That’s a big problem for us.”

In 2009, enrollment at Francis Lewis was at more than 200 percent capacity. Teachers were working from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and at one point were teaching 13 periods in one day in an attempt to serve all students, Goldstein said.

“After 12th period, I remember the principal used to play the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ over the loud speaker,” he said. “Seniors and juniors came in early and sophomores and freshmen came in late, and we had adults fighting over who would be put on the late schedule because nobody wanted to be. It was horrible.”

That year a meeting with officials from the city Department of Education led to an agreement to limit new student admissions at Francis Lewis, Goldstein said, and the school began shedding about 200 students a year.

But five years later, Goldstein, an English as a Second Language teacher, is still one of a handful of faculty members who runs his classroom out of a trailer.

“We’re overcrowded and that’s a fact, but we’re living with it,” he said. “It’s not as horrible as it used to be, but it’s still pretty bad.”

Goldstein said the high school currently has about 250 teachers and the average class size is 34 students. More students with special needs are now being admitted, creating a greater need for smaller classes and more dedicated personal teaching time.

Francis Lewis is recognized as one of the best high schools in the city, and Goldstein said it is to be expected that so many parents want to send their child to a thriving educational institution.

He said the school has become accustomed to its 4,000-student enrollment and has learned how to survive with the resources it has, but Francis Lewis now lives in fear of having its trailers taken away without being given anything to compensate for the space it would lose.

“What we need is more space,” he said. “We do need to get rid of the trailers, but we need more space. There’s been talk about getting rid of the trailers but nothing about where we’re going to put all these kids.”

The state Assembly has also urged the city to find a way to eliminate school trailers and provide a proper learning environment for students. Since taking office, de Blasio has suggested spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a plan to remove trailers from school yards, but Goldstein said he is more interested in what comes next.

He wonders how the city plans to make up that space.

“If you take away our trailers, where do we go?” he said.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.