To members of the Flushing High School community, the Department of Education’s plan to open two new schools in its building and decrease enrollment in the school is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to do what they failed to do last year:
Get rid of it. The two schools the DOE is planning to add to Flushing High School would open in September.
One of the two schools would be open to students citywide, with preference given to those from Queens, while the second would focus primarily on Chinese bilingual education with half of the incoming students English speakers and the other half Mandarin speakers.
The new schools would be phased in, with ninth grade students entering the campus next school year and a new freshman class each year. At the same time, enrollment in Flushing High School — which is operating at nearly 150 percent capacity — would decrease as new students come into the other schools, but the DOE says would not close completely. All three schools would operate in Flushing’s Union Street campus.
The DOE added that it would not decrease enrollment in Flushing High School should the collocations not be approved.
But students and teachers at a hearing held Thursday both blasted the proposal and lamented the city’s treatment of the 138-year-old high school — the oldest in the city. Inside its Victorian auditorium, which more closely resembles a London theater than a place for high school assemblies, the school community gathered to listen to the DOE’s plan, not one speaker spoke in favor of the idea and many expressed a variety of raw emotions over the plan and the school’s recent history with the city.
The school was one of seven high schools that were chosen to be phased out last year. It celebrated what was thought to be its last graduation in June, but the United Federation of Teachers took the city to court over the issue, and an arbitrator’s ruling, backed by a judge, halted the phaseout process and the school reopened as Flushing High School in September. This year, only one high school is eyed for closure — Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship High School — one of the four schools at the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights.
Jessica Dimech, a Flushing High School teacher and School Leadership Team member, chronicled what she said was a history of mistreatment of the school by the DOE, including false hopes of more funding and support, and the phaseout process in 2012, which brought her to tears.
“I did not come here to play cat and mouse with the DOE,” Dimech said. “Please, let me do my job.”
Dorothy Manning, whose son attends the school, blamed the DOE for Flushing’s troubles and said the school has not been allowed to improve. She accused the DOE of forcing leadership on the school that destined it to fail, noting that former principal Carl Hudson was arrested outside the school after allegedly being found with drugs last August.
Manning added she is also concerned about all three schools sharing the common facilities, such as the gymnasium and the cafeteria.
“They don’t have enough computers in the resource room for the kids that are already here,” she said. “How are they going to bring in two more schools?”
Some opponents of the collocation plan said it could bring unwelcome division to the campus.
John Doherty Jr., president of the school’s PTA, said the plan would divide the campus into rivals, similar to the situation he said occurs at Campus Magnet, where rival schools exist in the same building.
“Now they want to bring that foolishness to Flushing,” he said.
The DOE argued that the new schools, especially the one focused on Mandarin education, would serve the neighborhood’s growing Chinese-American community. But Diane Yi, head of Asian Americans for Equality’s Youth Leadership Program, said the new school is unnecessary and would only further divide the community by segregating an entire population.
“This would bring division to our community,” she said. “We want unity.”
But perhaps the most notable voice in opposition came from a member of the body the DOE says the plan will help — and opponents say would hurt — students.
Freshman Stephanie Kouboulas, who spoke first, struggled to hold back tears as she pleaded to keep the school as is. At times, Kouboulas seemed to scold the DOE’s representatives at the meeting, telling them that they were destroying the school’s spirit.
“It’s going to hurt morale,” she said. “I love my school.”
The Panel for Educational Policy is planning to vote on the proposal, as well as one which would collocate a new school at Newtown High School in Elmhurst, at it’s March 1l meeting in Brooklyn. Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens’ representative on the PEP, said he would introduce a proposal that would ban collocations and phaseouts. The body is also expected to vote on that, but because a majority of PEP members are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg — a condition of mayoral control — it is unlikely that proposal will pass.
Nevertheless, students and teachers at Flushing are still hoping to convince the panel to kill the collocation idea.