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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Under Public Pressure, City Retreats on Cleveland and Bushwick High School Closings

Aniah McAllister, 20; Justin Soto, 21; and Kassandra Barrientos, 18, outside Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn in March


April 26, 2012, 11:20 a.m.
Hours before a board was scheduled to vote on the closing of 26 public schools, city officials withdrew two of them from contention, retreating from their original plans in the face of strong opposition from elected officials.
The two schools, Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School, have little in common.
Cleveland, which earned a C on its last school progress report and has more than 2,400 students, has been a staple of the Ridgewood, Queens, neighborhood for decades, taking in thousands of students of varying academic ability, but graduating fewer of them in recent years.
Bushwick Community High School is a transfer school, a last-chance place for students who do not succeed in more traditional schools like Grover Cleveland, and have fewer than 10 of the 44 credits they will need to graduate. Bushwick has 420 students and, like Cleveland, earned a C on its last progress report.
Both schools were recommended for closing based on their graduation rates, which are below the city’s average. But in both cases, elected officials intervened to try to spare the schools.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, a graduate of Grover Cleveland, held a hearing earlier this month at which she criticized the Education Department for spending millions of dollars to bring vocational classes back to the school, when they had been disbanded years before.
And last week, a senior staff member for the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, placed two phone calls to officials at the department to ask that Bushwick Community remain open.
City officials said they withdrew plans to close Grover Cleveland and Bushwick Community because the schools were showing signs of improvement — more students were passing their classes and Regents exams. And when city officials visited the schools for their yearly quality review, both were rated “proficient” or higher.
This information has been available to city officials and the public for months, yet the two schools did not make the initial cut earlier this month, when the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, removed seven other schools from the closing list, citing their improved performance.
“Over the past several weeks, during public hearings and visits from my senior leadership, we looked closely at schools whose performance and quality of instruction have shown positive signs in the last two years,” Mr. Walcott said in a statement. “We have come to believe that two of those schools — Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School — have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools.”
And Ms. Nolan, in a joint statement with Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens representative to the Panel for Educational Policy, thanked city officials.
“We are appreciative and grateful that New York City Department of Education has removed Grover Cleveland High School from the ‘turnaround’ list,” the statement said. “They have recognized the strength and improvement under Principal Denise Vittor and all the excellence that the Grover Cleveland community offers. We continue to express our opposition and concern with the proposed ‘turnaround’ model, and we urge the city to drop their quest to close all these schools, especially the large comprehensive Queens High Schools.”
A third school, Junior High School 80 the Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx, earned a B for student progress on its report from the city last year and received high marks on its quality review. But city officials said that when they visited the school this year, they were unimpressed with the quality of teaching, and students’ scores on the state math and reading exams had dropped.
Anna M. Phillips is a member of the SchoolBook staff. Follow her on Twitter @annamphillips.

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