Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest Editorial: Department of Education to Blame for Jamaica HS Closure by Council Member Leroy Comrie - NY Daily News

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I wanted to take the opportunity to voice my concerns about what has clearly been the systematic destruction of Jamaica High School by the New York City Department of Education. I speak not only as an elected official, but as the parent of two public school students and a very proud alumnus of Jamaica High School.
I have many concerns regarding last week's decision by the Panel for Educational Policy in voting to close Jamaica. Before the Department of Education makes a decision to close down schools - many of which have deep and storied roots within the communities they serve - we must ensure that these schools have been given adequate resources to properly educate our children and that the Department of Education is using accurate and correct evaluation measures to determine the need for a school closure.
The Department of Education is manipulating schools to fail so that they can clean out the staff and administration through the back door.
Take Jamaica High for example.
Due to the lack of focus by DOE officials and the oversaturation of at-risk children, Jamaica High has not been allowed to evolve to meet the needs of its students. Over the last four years, it has become the primary intake school for last-minute admissions and could not compete with specialized first-choice schools.
The recently appointed principal, Walter Acham, has started to make progress, but has only been on the job for a little more than two years - nowhere near an acceptable amount of time to make an assessment of a school team's capabilities. I stand by my conviction that the dissolution of Jamaica High is not the change that is needed. Jamaica High has not been given the ability to flourish nor the resources that have been legislatively allocated.
It is my contention that the Department of Education has purposely employed a systematic deconstruction of Jamaica High by co-locating three smaller schools within its premises.
These smaller schools were then given incredible resources, such as laptops and smartboards, as well as priority classroom and office space. The original school sees its resources depleted and student-to-teacher ratios begin to increase. The administration and staff are demoralized while the school is designated as low-performing. Ultimately, the school is phased out and replaced with another small school. One new school was given 90 new computers to start out with. Jamaica High now has 1,200 students and is bursting at the seams with nearly 50 students per class utilizing outdated equipment.

It literally is an outrageous case of separate-and-unequal that is being forced upon the students of Jamaica High.
Three of these schools exist in the 21st century, while the largest exists as though left behind in the 19th century. These 1,200 students represent the wanton neglect on the part of the mayor and the Department of Education. Students, who like so many thousands throughout this city, have been abandoned and left behind in the closed off shadows of their neglected classrooms - the unwitting pawns caught up in this grandstanding game of "Improving Our Schools."
It's a scheme so transparent that even the students at Jamaica High School have realized this and were bright enough to incorporate these issues into an adaptation of the Greek play "Antigone."
The students, in a theatrical performance I attended several weeks ago, brilliantly demonstrated how the DOE has pulled resources from Jamaica High and favored the newer, smaller schools in the hopes that Jamaica would die a slow death.
The children in Jamaica High School recognize that, by sharing a space in this same building where the other students get so much more, they are being classified as second-class citizens.
Jamaica High School is an institution that has a great deal of history in the borough of Queens. At the time of its construction in 1925, it was the largest school site in the entire country. Last year, it was designated as a city landmark. It has an impressive list of alumni including Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel Prize winner and myriad elected officials.
Today, the school has an award-winning robotics team and a highly successful women's track team. Jamaica High is still a place where the minds and bodies of young people can be properly trained for success in the future, if given the proper resources.President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, rightly talked about the education of our children truly being successful when "reform isn't just a top-down mandate but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities." The city Department of Education has been absolutely tone-deaf to such advice.

Leroy Comrie is Deputy Majority Leader of the New York City Council.