A Final Decision for 24 City Schools

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Beth Fertig

A bit before midnight, more than three months after the idea was proposed, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to reconstitute two dozen city schools by closing them, replacing most of their staff members and reopening them with new names.

Come summer, Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School, Herbert H. Lehman High School, Banana Kelly High School, J.H.S. 22 Jordan L. Mott, I.S. 339, Bronx High School of Business, J.H.S. 80 Mosholu Parkway, M.S. 391 Angelo Patri Middle School, Fordham Leadership Academy and J.H.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, all in the Bronx; Automotive High School, Sheepshead Bay High School, John Dewey High School, John Ericsson Middle School 126 and J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, all in Brooklyn; Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School and High School of Graphic Communication Arts, in Manhattan; and August Martin High School, Flushing High School, Long Island City High School, William Cullen Bryant High School, John Adams High School, Newtown High School and Richmond Hill High School, in Queens -- will no longer exist.

In their place will be new schools, with staffs chosen by teams of administrators and teachers.

As Gotham Schools reported on Twitter on Thursday night, after the meeting ended, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city's chief academic officer, said he had faith in the hiring teams. "They will choose the strongest teacher available in that process," Gotham Schools wrote.

And, Mr. Polakow-Suransky said, "It is not working for hundreds and thousands of kids across these schools, and we want to change it."

The vote by the Panel for Educational Policy was the end of a prolonged process, a day of drama and a very long, emotional night. Six hours of testimony and discussion, covered live by Gotham Schools and SchoolBook on Twitter, took place on the Prospect Heights Campus in Brooklyn, before it ended suddenly with the vote.

Students, teachers and advocates testified about what the schools meant to them, and voiced their opinions about the policies of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott. You can find a minute-by-minute account on Gotham Schools.

You can also listen to a few voices from the meeting below, compiled by WNYC's Beth Fertig.

Voices are Melvin Hydelburg, 17, a junior at Lehman High School; Diana Rodriguez, 17, a senior at Grover Cleveland High School; Elizabeth Bouiss, a teacher at John Dewey High School; Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg; and Ann Craven, an English teacher at Long Island City High School.

But before the meeting was the drama of a last-minute save for two of the schools that were on the list. As Anna M. Phillips reported for The New York Times, "The schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, retreated on Thursday from a plan to shut down a last-chance high school for students who have dropped out or have failed at traditional schools."

That school, Bushwick Community High School, is a transfer school that was passionately defended by its students and public officials who had heard the stories of success and, in some cases, salvation, that the school, its staff and administration, had provided them.

Also saved was Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens.

Both schools had C's on their last school progress reports and, despite very low graduation rates and other weaknesses, had shown signs of improving.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky said in an interview: "We want to make sure that when we take a step as dramatic as closing a school and replacing it, that it’s going to be necessary to do that in order to improve that school. And where it’s possible to get real improvements without taking such dramatic steps, we want to do that.”

Needless to say, students and staff members at the saved schools were ecstatic.

At Grover Cleveland, the principal, Denise Vittor, jumped on the school’s loudspeaker the moment she heard the news. “It’s like New Year’s Eve,” she said.

Bushwick Community and Grover Cleveland were the eighth and ninth schools to be removed from the original list of 33 slated for so-called turnaround. The other seven were removed by Mr. Walcott on April 2, in an acknowledgment that they had earned A's and B's on their latest school progress reports.

Between the 23 schools that were ordered to be phased out in February and the 24 proposed for the state's designation of "turnaround" late Thursday, it has been a fateful year for the city's schools. But in place of the 27 closing schools may be dozens of new schools, under Mayor Bloomberg's policy of closing failing schools and replacing them with retooled, and usually smaller, schools. And if those new schools don't work, the city has shown this year, they will be closed, too.

Stay tuned.

Friday is the last day of state standardized tests. Fourth- through eighth-grade students will be finishing the six-day exam schedule -- and months of test prep -- by taking the last part of the math exams. Congratulations to all.

Also on Friday and this weekend:

At 8:30 a.m., N.Y.U. Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development hosts an education policy breakfast, “Setting Policies Around Teacher Quality/Effectiveness -- and the Consequences.” Scheduled to speak is Sean Corcoran, N.Y.U. Steinhardt professor of education economics. The event will also include David Steiner, dean of the Hunter College School of Education; local educators; administrators and others. It will be held at N.Y.U.’s Kimmel Center for University Life, room 914, 60 Washington Square South at LaGuardia Place.

Nick Jonas, the Broadway performer and pop singer, will be visiting city schools, as part of the Shubert Foundation/MTI Broadway program. He will be at Middle School 634 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Middle School 61 from 1 to 2:30 p.m., and Middle School 584, all in Brooklyn, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. (Does he then perform at night in "How to Succeed in Business"? Wow.)

Congratulations to the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, commonly known as the principals' union, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary Friday night with a dinner dance at the Waldorf Astoria.

And on Saturday, P.S. 295 The Studio School of Arts and Culture, in Park Slope, will hold its "Second Annual Touch-A-Truck Brooklyn Festival" from noon to 5 p.m. The event, which charges $5 a person and sells food, is a fund-raiser for the school, which last year raised $25,000 to pay for a part-time teacher "to alleviate large class sizes in fourth and fifth grades." What is it? "The event offers kids the opportunity to climb inside, touch and explore the working trucks they see in everyday life. Vehicles include: fire truck, ambulance, police car, garbage truck, antique cement mixer, electric tour bus and more."

Also on Saturday, the top girls and boys table tennis players will compete in the NYC Mayor's Cup Table Tennis Championships at the Chinese Community Center of FLushing, 43-17 Union Street, Queens, between 2:30 and 4 p.m.

And on Sunday, the Theatre Development Fund's Autism Theatre Initiative sponsors an "autism-friendly performance" of "Mary Poppins." On Sept. 30, they will offer the same opportunity at "The Lion King." The organization "has purchased every seat in the theatre for sale at discount prices to families whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum. Tickets to these special performances are sold only through the TDF website at www.tdf.org/autism."