By Sarina Trangle
Gateway students made a ruckus to rival the morning bell last Friday.
Armed with signs reading “My education matters” and “Wake up DOE,” close to 50 students protested outside the middle and high school, at 160-20 Goethals Ave. They chanted about their desire for immediate change, citing scheduling issues, a deteriorating relationship with the Queens Hospital Center and lack of extracurricular activities.
Some held posters with photos of Principal Judy Henry, but few mentioned the administrator’s name when asked about their concerns.
Henry did not return a call for comment.
Kayla Fontaine, a junior from South Ozone Park, held a sign decrying the lack of academic programs with the Queens Hospital Center the school shares a campus with. She said her friends sought to attend Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School because they were interested in medical careers, but were disappointed when the school stopped collaborating with the hospital.
More personally, Kayla said, she got stuck in an aerobics course that does not have a regular teacher or come with credits she needs.
“It’s a full 50-minute class and you just sit there,” she said.
Sandra Williams, the Parent-Teacher Association president, said the school has multiple aerobics and library classes that appear to be created to give students a structured environment, but do not yet have permanent, licensed teachers.
Williams said at least one special education class did not have an instructor with a special education teaching license.
The PTA president said parents were upset the school had hired a third gym teacher and was seeking a fourth, when many felt Gateway was losing cite of its science-centric origins.
But the protest did not resonate with all students. Nicholas Lakhan wrote in an e-mail that he felt confident in Henry’s leadership at Gateway.
“Gateway has no student’s education at stake. If anything, it advances students,” he wrote. “In eighth-grade, they have the opportunity to take Regents classes that a regular student would take later in high school. She [Henry] tries for every student to graduate here with an advanced Regents diploma, or AP course credit.”
Parents and pupils urged the DOE to examine Gateway’s leadership in an April 2014 letter that critiqued the 800-pupil school’s assistant principal staffing levels. The memo suggested the school should invest more in science education and its partnership with the hospital. It also alleged the administration misspent money and hired friends of the principal.
The DOE said it is investigating Henry. Under her tenure, Gateway received a “B” grade on its 2012-13 middle school progress report and an “A” on it high school progress report.
But both reviews gave Gateway a “C” for school environment, which measures attendance rates and a survey of how staff, students and parents view academic expectations, safety, respect and communication.
When asked about the protest, the DOE said it would weigh all feedback.
“We are committed to listening to the opinions and concerns of all members of the school community,” the department said in a statement.
Emily Zand Halstuch, a senior from Jamaica, said oversight should include helping Gateway budget for the extracurricular activities needed to pad college applications.
“I had an interview yesterday for a scholarship and I see all these people and they are listing their extracurriculars and I am thinking, ‘How do I do this?’” she said.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.