Community rallies against Far Rock school closure

Community rallies against Far Rock school closure
Parents and education representatives who attended a school construction authority meeting took issue with pre-school to intermediary schools receiving more funding than high schools in capital plan projects.
Photos by Naeisha Rose
By Naeisha Rose

Rowdy attendees disrupted a Feb. 8 School Construction Authority meeting at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, protesting against one school’s closure and a lack of funding for repairs and additions at others.

Parents, students, and teachers from PS/MS 42 railed against the Far Rockaway renewal school’s closure — which Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced last year — repeating chants of “Save 42!” before the meeting even began.

The school issued a press release days after the meeting, stating that it only reached five out of its seven target goals for improvement. But the learning house managed to incrementally increase its math and ELA scores by 10.5 points, received an 86-percent score for rigorous instruction, and clocked a 97.3-percent teacher-attendance score from the DOE, according to the Feb. 13 release, which noted the Far Rockaway school’s effective leadership and collaborative teachers.

Reps from the William Cullen Bryant High School also attended the session, where they complained about a host of issues including broken lockers containing rat feces, damaged auditorium seats, an antiquated sound system, peeling paint, asbestos, and an athletic field with broken turf that resulted in one student’s injury.

“When the paramedics said ‘wiggle your feet’ and she couldn’t wiggle them, I honestly didn’t think she would be able to walk again,” the school’s Assistant Principal Bill Manolios said about his student’s accident on the field.

The U.S. Department of Education classified the high school at 48-10 31st Ave. in Astoria as “Title 1,” which means a large percentage of its pupils come from low-income families, and its principal told meeting attendees that investing in the facility is critical to her students’ success.

“A majority of our students, 90 percent, are low-income,” said Namita Dwarka. “Our students are doing amazing things, but in order for us to show them that they could reach their capacity and full potential, we need to create a really good environment for them.”

William Cullen Bryant is one of five schools with arts students performing at a March 19 competitive showcase at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, in Manhattan, but the rehearsal space in its dilapidated auditorium is lacking compared to those at other nearby schools, according to a faculty member.

“The chancellor and the mayor are talking about equity and access, but what we have is not comparable,” Art Director Allissa Crea said in reference to the facilities at the Frank Sinatra Arts High School, a few blocks away on 35th Ave. in Astoria.

SCA Project Manager Danielle Schaaf said that she will help the school get in touch with someone about the asbestos and decrepit lockers, but that auditoriums and fields are not considered high priorities, and that their renovations are typically funded by City Council or the Borough President via Resolution A grants.

And SCA spokesman Bed Goodman told attendees that the organization is amending its previous budget of approximately $15.5 billion to incorporate an additional $940 million towards capital-construction projects including new clean-energy boilers, pre-schools, physical-education spaces, seats, and repairs to some schools’ existing exteriors.

But a leader of the Queens High School Presidents’ Council took issue with the capital plans, arguing they neglected the needs of local high schools by largely focusing on improvements at pre-K and intermediary learning houses.

The civic honcho noted that the Academy of American Studies at 28-04 41st Ave. in Long Island City still lacks an auditorium, despite locals requesting to add one for 20 years, and that a previous proposal to build a new hall at the school was abandoned in recent plans for it.

“You as a planning group have to understand that every high school deserves basic facilities,” said Nancy Northrop. “These buildings will last 100 to 200 years.”

But Schaaf said the previous proposal Northrop referenced did not include adding an auditorium, and that building one would likely require Resolution A funding.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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