Angry parents and students gathered in the Richmond Hill High School auditorium last Thursday night to fight against the city Department of Education’s attempt to close down the school’s annex several blocks from the main building and turn it into a new high school.
Several students talked about how the annex, located at 94-25 117 St., serves as a transitional location for freshmen to adjust from middle school to high school. It also increases morale and school spirit, they said.
“No good can come from closing our annex. It has helped our high school grow and develop,” said John, a student at Richmond Hill, to those in attendance. “Richmond Hill High School is not just a number, it is a community.”
Parents believe that the DOE is sending the wrong message to the students at Richmond Hill.
Last year, the city attempted to close the school, along with six other high schools in the borough, due to failing grades and the school’s overcrowding and reopen them under new names with new administrations. The United Federation of Teachers sued the city to block the plan and won. As a result, the school remains open under its original name, but with a new administration. However, the principal appointed in 2012 was removed this past summer and replaced, and that signaled trouble to the school community.
“We have had three principals in the past three years. Something is always being taken from them [the students],” said Cheryl Rose, the PTA treasurer and a School Leadership Team member. “They feel like they are not worthy; a lot of them are already dealing with abandonment issues. They are being taught we don’t matter, and when you think you don’t matter, you act like you don’t matter, and when you do that, you bring down the whole school.”
Not only does the annex boost morale and school spirit, parents believe that if another school were put in its place it would suffer from the same issues as Richmond Hill.
“You want to take away from Richmond Hill and open up another school which is the same thing, ninth grade. It doesn’t make sense,” said Editha Rivera, the parent of a student in the annex and an SLT member. “It is going to have the same problems as here; it is going to be overpopulated like Richmond Hill. It is just making things worse.”
The DOE says the new high school will add another option to the area, which only has four high schools — Richmond Hill; John Adams; the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture; and Robert H. Goddard High School of Communication Arts and Technology. The latter three are all located in Ozone Park. The DOE’s policy-making body, the Panel for Educational Policy, is slated to vote on the proposal on Nov. 26.
But critics of the plan say the DOE should focus on making the existing school better.
“Instead of using your energy to make a new school, take that energy, put it in this school and make it better,” Rivera continued to loud applause from those in attendance. “Get more programs and better the education of our children.”
Some believe the fight may end once Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, a staunch critic of Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies, takes office on Jan. 1.
“How many times can the Department of Education hammer a school again and again till they fall down? Well, guess what, Richmond Hill is still here and it is still strong,” exclaimed James Vasquez, the UFT’s high school representative for Queens. “It is the heart and spirit of the students, parents, staff members and the community that surrounds it. This Department of Education has been deaf to all of this. Well guess what, we are going to be here long after you guys are gone.”
PTA President Vishnu Mahadeo believes that the DOE has not listened to the school’s request. He, along with the school, plans on bringing the issue to the attention of the new mayor.
“They do not have the authority because the new mayor never gave it to them, and they have to listen to the wave of the new authority,” he said. “Now it is his turn to fight for our interest.”
Although the action was nonbinding, Community Board 9 also voted against the proposal at its November meeting last week, with only one member abstaining from the vote.