Candidates for the 6th Congressional District may differ on everything from the federal budget to their own electability, but there is at least one thing they agree on —Flushing High School should not close.
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who are all making a bid to represent the seat left vacant by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Long Island), joined a bevy of other lawmakers and civic leaders at a press conference organized by the NAACP on Monday to condemn Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to shutter Flushing High School.
Bloomberg proposes closing eight large community high schools in Queens at the end of this school year, and reopening them at the beginning of next school year with up to half the teachers replaced and new names. He wants to do the same at 18 other schools across the city.
“To close the school and take away teachers’ jobs, it’s cruel to our community and cruel to our students,” Meng said at the press conference held in front of the high school. “We’re tired of having no say in the public education system.”
That sentiment was echoed time and again during Monday’s event —that Bloomberg and his administration have already decided to close the schools and are now going through the public hearing process solely because the law forces them to do so. The city Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the school closure proposals at its April 26 meeting, and is expected to pass them because the majority of the PEP is made up of mayoral appointees who have never before rejected something Bloomberg wants.
Lancman noted that Flushing High School, along with the other schools pegged for closure, has been part of a federal improvement program that paired schools with educational nonprofits to help them with things like low graduation rates and test scores, which began this fall and was expected to last three years. However, less than six months after that initiative — called “transformation” — was launched, the mayor announced in January that he wanted to implement a more aggressive federal program — titled “turnaround” — at the schools, which includes the teacher replacement and name change, as well as potentially removing the principal. A number of legislators and educators have said Bloomberg wanted the change as a blow against the teachers’ union after the city and the United Federation of Teachers were unable to reach a deal on a new evaluation system for educators.
The mayor has said he wants the new program to weed out ineffective instructors.
“This school was slated to be transformed, but then the city got into a fight with the teachers union, and, in retaliation, the city announced it was closing this and the other schools,” Lancman said.
Halloran slammed the mayor’s proposal, as well as his educational platform in general.
“This mayor’s education policy hasn’t fulfilled any of the promises made over the last 10 years,” Halloran said.
“They gave Flushing less funding overall and expected this city would sit by and let another large community high school close,” Halloran continued.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), who taught at Flushing High School in the beginning of her career, also emphasized that the city has not provided adequate resources for schools like Flushing, which educate diverse communities, including many immigrant students who speak little English.
“We have a lot of students with special needs,” Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) agreed. “The school has to spend a lot of time helping those students.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called the city’s plan to close the school “a disgrace.”
“Let’s put money back into the school, give it the resources it needs and students will succeed,” Avella said.
Avella, Lancman, Halloran and a number of others at the event argued that the city’s policy of closing large neighborhood high schools has not fared well in Queens, pointing to Jamaica High School as an example.
The city began phasing out — city speak for closing over a number of years — Jamaica High School last year and has brought smaller, more specialized schools into the same building.
“Think about the bureaucratic redundancy created” by implementing the four smaller schools into Jamaica High School, Halloran said.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said he is concerned that the city is gunning to eliminate many of the city’s large, neighborhood schools.
“After we lost Jamaica High School, we can’t let them take Flushing High School,” Braunstein said. “I’m afraid next thing they’ll come after Bayside and Cardozo.”
Rev. Calvin Gibson, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Flushing, said the city cannot allow what has happened at Jamaica High School — such as almost all Advanced Placement courses being axed, along with numerous clubs and after-school activities —to occur at Flushing too.
“Enough is enough,” Gibson said. “We want Flushing High School to remain open.”
Ken Cohen, of the NAACP, wrapped up the press conference by saying the city is interfering with students’ futures by overhauling their schools.
“This is our future in our schools, and we need to support them,” Cohen said.