On Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m. in the International High School at Prospect Heights, the Department of Education’s Panel on Educational Policy voted on all co-location proposals. Martin Van Buren High School, IS 59, August Martin High School, PS 40, JHS 226, MS 72 and the Corona Arts and Sciences Academy are the schools in Queens facing co-location.
Last week, the DOE called off its plans to co-locate a new elementary school in the building of PS 1 after parents, teachers and elected officials spoke at the hearing against the proposal. At the Martin Van Buren High School co-location hearing on Oct. 23, state Sen. Tony Avella, Councilman Mark Weprin and I — along with parents, teachers, civic leaders, students and community members — urged the department to hold off on its plans to co-locate a new school in the building. However, the DOE has ignored our request for a meeting and is instead pushing through with the proposal.
My biggest question is, what’s the rush?
One of the first issues that needs to be addressed with the proposed co-location at Martin Van Buren High School is the lack of transparency in the process and the reasons the DOE is rushing to put in the second school. It seems the Bloomberg administration is rushing these co-locations before the next administration takes office.
The problem lies in that there is a clear disconnect between the department and the community. Parents, teachers, community leaders and students have only been consulted after the DOE issued its proposals. Parents and community members deserve to be informed and to have greater involvement in the school’s decision-making process.
I call for a more comprehensive and community-based plan in which all members of the community who are impacted by the change are able to be involved in the school turnaround process. All of the schools dealing with the issue of co-location need to be thoroughly examined to determine if co-locating is the best plan for the school to thrive.
The proposed co-location would eliminate 500 seats at Martin Van Buren High School and create a new six-year school that would give students the option to earn two-year degrees from Queensborough Community College. There is no reason why Martin Van Buren High School can’t have this program integrated into the school’s curriculum.
Martin Van Buren High School is home to a variety of programs partnered with businesses and colleges in the area. Martin Van Buren is one of the two schools in New York State that has the renowned Physics First Program. Along with Sen. Avella and Councilman Weprin, I supported the school in creating a pre-med program at North Shore LIJ.
Under the leadership of Principal Sam Sochet, Martin Van Buren has finally begun to turn around and make progress. On the annual school progress report card, Martin Van Buren increased a grade. Principal Sochet is planning to have a pre-law, forensics and pre-engineering program in the subsequent year. If the school undergoes a co-location, it will reduce the amount of resources and projects that Martin Van Buren needs to continue to thrive.
If not well planned, having an additional school in a building can become a costly project that disrupts student learning and limits access to resources and school facilities. Often when schools undergo co-location, one of the schools receives preferential treatment. The issues that can arise from co-location are overcrowding, unsafe hallways, inadequate resources and tensions over sharing space and equipment with the other school in the building. The schools often have to compete for the use of shared areas such as cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums, playgrounds and hallways. The co-located school will take away essential resources from the traditional school, depriving students of equipment and other resources.
We have seen far too many schools experience co-locations that result in underfunded programs, overcrowded classes and ultimately a spiral of academic decline. Instead of co-locating struggling schools, let’s first discuss the option with the community and invest our time and resources into turning the school around.
Martin Van Buren High School is one of the few community comprehensive high schools that provide real choices, with an exciting curriculum for students. The Queensborough Community College partnership program can be incorporated into the school. The students of our city deserve to be provided the best education possible and parents should have the choice for their child to attend one of the last comprehensive high schools in Queens.
David Weprin is New York State Assemblyman for the 24th District, in central and northeastern Queens.