Teachers, students and community members gathered in the Business, Computer Application and Entrepreneurship High School to voice opposition to the Department of Education’s proposal to close the school.
Panel for Educational Policy President Dorita Gibson, High School Superintendent Juan Mendez, BCAE Principal Lynne Calendar, student government representatives and school faculty sat in front of an audience of about 30 to hear presentations and public statements on the proposed phasing out of BCAE.
“I just want to begin this meeting by saying that this is not an easy thing to do,” Gibson said. “We do not take this decision lightly, and while the school may be serving some of you well, we need to consider the students who the school is not serving well because they deserve the best too.”
A majority of the meeting was allotted to student and staff presentations, including a slideshow from the BCAE Student Leadership Team. Slides displayed a variety of school clubs and events that show a “better side,” to a school that received a “D” letter grade on its progress report.
“We are all affected by this phasing out and even with that, this school continues to empower us,” SLT member Rosemary Reyes said.
BCAE, located in Cambria Heights, is one of four smaller institutions located in the building that was once Andrew Jackson High School. In addition to BCAE, Law, Government and Community Service High School also made the closure list.
“How did we get here again?” former PTA President Anne Barley yelled into the microphone.“The impact phasing out this school will have cannot be overstated. I am in total agreement that we need to restructure, we need to get graduation rates up but we need to see you pull out all the stops before we even hear ‘phase out.’”
The crowd responded with cheers and applause as Barley went on to criticize both the DOE and the school administration for not doing everything in their power to ensure the success of BCAE.
“It’s like parenting,” she said. “At the first time something goes wrong, you don’t abandon them. You stick it out and work with them to get better. That’s what we need to do here.”
A number of presenters cited the quick turn-around in BCAE principals as part of the problem. In the past four years, BCAE has had three principals, the most recent of which has only been in place for five months.
PEP Queens Representative Dymtro Fedkowskyj said he supports BCAE and will do all he can to prevent a closure. The PEP consists of 26 appointed members and will make the final decision for all school phase-out proposals.
“Phase-out plans should be a last resort and not a first option,” he said. “That is why I will be voting no to this proposal. There are other options for this community.”
Though a number of the presentations were emotional, many resulting in tears, yelling and frustration, it was Joel Vigne’s presentation that was the most controversial.
“We want to be civil?” Vigne, a math teacher said, “You’re preposing to close a school and we want to be civil? I was supposed to sit on the panel but I will not and I cannot sit on a panel with this going on.”
Vigne brought up a PowerPoint presentation on a projector screen that laid out statistics for three unnamed schools. All three of the schools had similarly low graduation rates (no higher than 59 percent) yet the first two schools received passing progress report grades.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are the third school,” Vigne said. “So don’t tell me this is about graduation rates. It’s about credit accumulation. We have a lower percentage of students taking 10 or more credits each year. “
“You’re telling us this is about graduation rates and college readiness but our students scored higher on the SATs than both of these schools and BCAE received a ‘B’ in college readiness. So don’t you dare walk in here and lie to the public.”
Vigne’s presentation received a standing ovation from students and faculty.
After the presentation, several community members made two-minute public speeches, most of which echoed the concerns voiced by Vigne, Barley and the other presenters.
The PEP will vote on all schools slated for closure on March 11. If the panel approves the phase-out, BCAE will not admit a freshman class in fall 2013 and will close its doors in June 2016.