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Queens Chronicle

Saved! Queens' Grover Cleveland High School will not close

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Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012 1:49 pm | Updated: 2:29 am, Thu Oct 11, 2012.

Just hours before the city was set to vote on the mayor’s plan to shutter 26 schools across the city, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood has been removed from the list of institutions pegged for closure.

The city also said Thursday morning it would remove Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn from its list.

“Over the past several weeks, during public hearings and visits from my senior leadership, we looked closely at schools whose performance and quality of instruction have shown positive signs in the last two years,” Walcott said in a prepared statement. “We have come to believe that two of these schools, Grover Cleveland High School and Bushwick Community High School, have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools.”

Bloomberg proposes implementing a federal program titled “turnaround” at 24 schools, including seven in Queens, at the end of June. As part of the program, the schools would close at the end of June and reopen in September with up to half the staff replaced, a new name and potentially another principal.

The city Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the closures at its Thursday night meeting in Brooklyn.

The decision to spare Grover Cleveland has relieved educators, parents, students and legislators, all of whom have been fighting for months to ensure the school would not undergo the radical transformation that was proposed.

“The kids are hugging and kissing each other; it’s a very emotional building right now,” Grover Cleveland Principal Denise Vittor said Thursday morning.

Vittor said she believes the city’s decision was in part thanks to the support from the community, particularly the legislators, who rallied in favor of the high school.

“The entire community came together,” she said. “There was no division. Nobody blamed each other. It was about coming together to move the school forward.”

Grover Cleveland Parent Teacher Association President Kathy Carlson said she too was thrilled by the news.

“The principal made an announcement over the loud speaker today, and you could hear her voice cracking,” Carlson said. “She had tears in her eyes; she was so happy. When she made the announcement, you could hear the whole school scream.”

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens borough president’s appointee to the PEP, said in a joint statement that the city Department of Education has “recognized the strength and improvement under Principal Denise Vittor, and all the excellence that the Grover Cleveland community offers.”

The two also called on the city to abandon its plan to close the rest of the schools.

“We continue to express our opposition and concern with the proposed turnaround model, and we urge the city to drop their quest to close all these schools, especially the large, comprehensive Queens high schools.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) also praised the decision, and Vittor — who just became Grover Cleveland’s principal at the beginning of the school year.

“This news is a testament to the hard work of the school community, the students, parents, teachers and Principal Vittor at Grover Cleveland,” Crowley said in a prepared statement.

Like the other schools still slated for closure, Grover Cleveland was in a federal program implemented at the beginning of the school year, which partnered the schools with educational nonprofits to help them with issues like increasing its graduation rates.

That federal program, known as “transformation,” was expected to last for three years, but Bloomberg announced in January, less than six months from the program’s start date, that he wanted to implement the more aggressive turnaround model.

Vittor said she is unsure if Grover Cleveland will remain in the federal program that began this year, but she expects to soon sit down with the DOE to discuss the school’s future.

“Now that we’re not in turnaround, where do we fall?” Vittor asked. “How are we going to go about funding the programs we’re beginning and what supports do we have in place?”

Vittor emphasized she hopes Grover Cleveland can continue to work with the educational nonprofit, High Schools That Work.

“I have nothing but high hopes,” Vittor said. “I believe the DOE is really going to take a look at different supports for us.”

As Vittor noted, the school received a swell of support from community members when the mayor announced his plans to close the schools.

Hundreds of people attended the city’s public hearing on closing Grover Cleveland earlier this month, and for hours everyone from students to civic leaders touted the facility’s achievements, including improving graduation rates and anecdotes about teachers spending their weekends at school helping struggling students.

Those who spoke at the hearing detailed a long list of those strengths, including the school being one of five institutions in the nation to be chosen by the Lenovo manufacturer and the National Academy Foundation to design and create mobile applications, otherwise known as apps, for computers. They also praised the school for having one of the city’s few girls wrestling programs, the spring and fall fairs the school hosts for the community and its greenhouse.

Welcome to the discussion.