A public hearing on Oct. 23 predictably brought out hundreds of staunch defenders of Martin Van Buren High School who want a new principal to get the time he was promised to turn the school around.
What those defenders may not have anticipated, however, was an unusually large and highly vocal group of nearby homeowners and civic groups who are very supportive of Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to co-locate a Pathways in Technology program in the school next year.
The plan, which was expected to be approved Wednesday night by the Panel for Educational Policy in a vote that took place after the Chronicle’s deadline, will reduce Van Buren’s student body by 500 next year, with an anticipated cut in funding and programs.
Foremost among arguments from parents, students and elected officials was that new Principal Sam Sochet already has made great progress in improving academic performance and has implemented a far stronger curriculum.
Teacher Sanjay Patel said, for example, that some students at the once-moribund school now have the possibility of graduating with up to 15 college credits.
“So much is going on here,” George Ettienne of the Class of 2010 said. “Why stop it? Let it flourish.”
“We have good leadership,” said alumnus Owen Rumelt. “We have to give that leadership a chance.”
They also feel that aside from a co-loction breaking the agreement that brought Sochet in, the Bloomberg administration sought no input from the community before arbitrarily putting the program on the fast track.
“I first heard about it through rumors,” City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said. “They never talked to anyone ... They know what’s best.”
Weprin, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and a representative of Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said any decision should be delayed until a new mayor is chosen.
All said putting the P-Tech program in MVB under Sochet’s authority would be exactly the type of help they said the DOE promised them for the school. Mark Weprin said even co-location could be a viable option.
“Wait,” he said. “If it’s a good idea now, it will still be a good idea in three months.”
But representatives of several civic associations pointed out that as of now, only 4 percent of the student body comes from the community, and that is by the choice of parents among whom the school has fallen out of favor.
They agree with the DOE’s contention that the P-Tech program will help make Van Buren attractive again for local students.
Bobby Sher, board president of the adjacent Bell Park Manor Terrace complex, said he attended the school in the 1970s, and never dreamed that his board would have to spend so much on private security measures that he said are the direct result of activity by Van Buren students on or near their property.
“It pains me to say that,” he said.
Not all civics came in along those lines. Michael O’Keeffe of the Creedmoor Civic Association said they do support the P-Tech initiative, but only if it is a Martin Van Buren program.1