Jamaica High School is failing, according to a state report — and some staff at the school, which is being phased out, say the city Department of Education is purposely leaving the school to wither away.
The DOE voted to phase out Jamaica High School in 2011 and the school is slated to be completely replaced by three others by 2014: Queens Collegiate, Hillside Arts & Letters Academy and the High School for Community Leadership.
The state Department of Education’s report, released last week, came as a result of a visit to the school on Feb. 9. According to the report, two special education teachers at the school are not certified and there are no honors or advance placement classes available for students at Jamaica High School.
That is not how it used to be at Jamaica, said James Eterno, UFT chapter president and social studies teacher at the school. Eterno said the school once offered honor classes and had certified special education teachers, but in the last decade, the city has started starving the school of funds and resources, while placing at-risk students in the school. Eterno accused the DOE of negligence.
“They basically want their preferred schools to be the ones that succeed,” he said. “These kids are just collateral damage.”
Eterno said the Bloomberg administration has crammed at-risk students into comprehensive high schools like Jamaica High School while focusing on smaller schools and charter schools. The city did that, he said, despite warnings that it would cause the schools to falter.
“[The DOE] were told in 2006 to stop flooding the comprehensive schools with the most at-risk kids,” Eterno said.
He blamed the city’s ongoing feud with unions for the problems at Jamaica High School and said the DOE is trying to “get rid of institutional memory” by ridding the schools of veteran teachers and replacing them with newer teachers who are paid far less than those with tenure.
Eterno said he believes the ideal situation would be a mix of veteran teachers and new teachers who can cohabitate well, but many of the newer schools lack enough veteran teachers to mentor the newer ones. He suggested the city might not want veteran teachers influencing the thinking of newer ones.
Eterno also believed the seven schools that were part of the now-scrapped “turnaround” plan are also at risk of falling into the same rut as Jamaica.
The DOE responded to the report in a three-page letter dated back in May and signed by Edward Hui, executive director of school development, in response to the first draft of the state’s report. In it, the agency argued that decreasing enrollment required some classes to be cut and the school was unable to find teacher candidates with high enough qualifications for special education. The letter went on to state that the DOE is planning on setting up a committee consisting of a guidance counselor and four teachers to put together a plan for increasing graduation rates.
The DOE also said it would readjust the school’s schedule to allow for two block lunch periods, which allows teachers to have a common planning time and would also create a common planning calendar for the entire campus.