By Patrick Donachie
Martin Van Buren High School has seen dramatic improvements in its graduation and attendance rates since being classified as one of the 94 struggling schools in the city’s Renewal Program, elected officials and school administration announced Tuesday.
“We get enough news about the school system we’d rather not hear,” City Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) said during a presentation held in the school’s conference room. “But there is great news happening in our school system.”
Grodenchik, who represents the area in the City Council, was joined by state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica), students, teachers and civic leaders. Principal Sam Sochet said graduation rates had improved markedly in the past few years, and the school was one of only three Renewal schools in the city to surpass all its benchmarks, which included analyses of college and career readiness, school safety and academic improvement.
“We want our children to succeed, not just at Martin Van Buren but everywhere. It’s heartbreaking if we don’t,” Sochet said, telling the audience he was ‘gratified’ there was good news to report about Martin Van Buren.
Sochet took over as principal of Van Buren in 2012, and the four-year graduation rate had jumped from 46 percent to 62.3 percent in the past three school years. The school, established in 1955, is a part of School District 26, the highest-performing school district in the city.
Sochet touted the school’s partnerships with Long Island Jewish Hospital for its health program and a prominent city law firm for a law program at the school and said he was proud of the accomplishments of the school. The city designated Van Buren as a Renewal school during the 2014 school year.
“It’s very stressful being a Renewal School,” he acknowledged. “But when we make it, as we’re making it, it’s worthwhile.”
The DOE established the Renewal School Program as a way to offer direct guidance and resource allocation to struggling schools, giving each school three years to show marked improvement. Applicable schools had to be identified as priority or focus schools by the state DOE, have demonstrated low academic achievement on the three years prior to 2014 and have scored “proficient” or below on its most recent quality review.
About 78 percent of ninth-grade students achieved enough credits in the last school year to be on track for a four-year graduation, according to Van Buren’s most recent School Quality Snapshot. Grodenchik noted that two Nobel Prize winners had graduated from Van Buren.
“We know great work has come out of here,” he said, “and great work is happening again.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona