Far Rock community rallies to protest school closings

Teachers, parents, and students protested on the steps of City Hall the impending closure of their schools.
By Naeisha Rose

Parents, teachers, community leaders and youth were at the footsteps of Tweed Courthouse in City Hall last week protesting the closure and conjoiining of 19 schools in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Nine of the schools shutting down are renewal schools, including two Far Rockaway schools in District 27: the Brian Piccolo Middle School (MS 53) and the Robert Vernam School (PS/MS 42), according to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in December.

Piccolo is located at 10-45 Naemoke St. in Far Rockaway and Vernam is at 488 Beach 66th St. in Arverne.

The dozens of protesters at Tweed on Tuesday, Feb. 21, called the school closures a violation of their civil rights and pointed out that the institutions being closed were mostly made up of black and Latino students.

“Chancellor Carmen Fariña acts without regard to the civil right victories of the last half century, without regard for the educational well-being of the community,” said Dr. Galloway, a fifth-grade teacher at PS 42.

Parents and teachers were frustrated with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who they quoted as once saying “closing a school is a panacea” when he was campaigning for his first bid as mayor.

The mayor, however, also said that closing a school was a “last resort,” according to chalkbeat.org, an education news site.

De Blasio initially invested $150 million into the renewal school program to help 94 struggling institutions transform, but the agenda has seen mixed results.

Despite the two Far Rockaway schools facing closure, four other institutions in Queens had steady enough gains to be placed in the Rise School Program, according to the DOE. These schools along with 17 others met 67 percent of their benchmark in improving test scores, attendance, and college readiness, and will receive fewer renewal resources going forward.

The Pan American International High School (Elmhurst), Ocean School Elementary (Far Rockaway), Richard S. Grossley Junior High School (Jamaica) and John Adams High School (Ozone Park) are the four Rise Schools in the borough, according to the DOE.

“The decision to close a school is made in close consultation with the superintendent and is based on multiple measures,” said Michael Aciman, a spokesman of the DOE. “These proposals were issued with the best interests of the students in mind and we believe students will be better served at a higher-performing school next year.”

The educators who were protesting, however, felt that the schools under the renewal program that are closing were not given enough time to demonstrate improvement.

Earlier this month representatives of PS/MS 42 said they reached five out of the seven target goals for improvement.

The school 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 a Feb. 13 press release, which noted the Far Rockaway school’s effective leadership and collaborative teachers.

According to teachers at the protest, education reform initiatives take around five years to show any marked change.

In a Feb. 15 letter, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz stood with PS/MS 42 in its opposition and urged Fariña to withdraw the proposal to close the school, which she said made “great strides to improve as part of the Renewal Schools Program.”

A New York City Panel for Educational Panel was scheduled to vote on the closure this week.

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

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