Panel Votes to Close Six Bronx Schools, Despite Protests

By Patrick Wall on February 10, 2012 11:15am 

Robert Gonzalez, a seventh grader at Aspire Preparatory Middle School, said the city deserved to remain open.
Robert Gonzalez, a seventh grader at Aspire Preparatory Middle School, said the city deserved to remain open.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

BROOKLYN — Bronx parents holding out hope for an 11th-hour miracle were dealt a harsh dose of reality Thursday night when an education panel rubber stamped a city plan to close six schools in the borough.

Dozens of Bronx residents joined hundreds of students, teachers and parents from around the city to protest the closures and demand that their schools be spared.

“Even though we know from the start that a decision has already been made, we felt we had to come here, we had to fight,” said Elliot Vazquez, 17, a senior at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

“It’s a great way to educate the masses,” Vazquez added, “about how broken the New York City education system really is.”

The Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out four Bronx high schools: Gompers, Gateway School for Environmental Research and Technology, Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers and Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School.

The panel also decided to shut down one middle school, Aspire Preparatory Middle School, and to eliminate grades six through eight from the Academy of Scholarship and Entrepreneurship, so that it will become just a high school.

All of the schools received Ds or Fs on their most recent DOE progress reports, which consider student test scores, graduation and attendance rates and satisfaction surveys.

About 20 Gompers students, staff and supporters — including a graduate from the class of 1966 — rode in a bus provided by the city’s teachers union down from the South Bronx to the hearing at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene.

Most of the riders believed that Gompers’ fate was already sealed.

One Gompers teacher and alum, Stacey Thomas, passed around a charter school application that someone had found on the New Visions for Public Schools website. On the application, students could choose from several New Visions charter schools, including a new one located inside the Samuel Gompers building — even though, officially, the city had yet to close Gompers or open a new charter school in its place.

Gompers supporters hoist a sign defending their school at an education hearing on Feb. 9, 2012. A city panel voted to phase out Gompers.
Gompers supporters hoist a sign defending their school at an education hearing on Feb. 9, 2012. A city panel voted to phase out Gompers.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

Gompers, Addams and Dodge all offer vocational training courses, which allow students to earn certain certifications in fields such as electronics, nursing and cosmetology.

Several students and staff said the loss of those programs would hurt students — even if, as the DOE says, new schools will offer similar courses as they replace the closing schools.

“It’s an injustice for the kids,” said Marilyn Paez, 45, a Gompers guidance counselor who had worked at the school for 19 years.

Her three adult children each graduated from Gompers. She said her youngest son, who graduated in 2009, uses graphic design skills he learned in a desktop publishing vocational course to earn money creating flyers for local musicians.

“Even though he didn’t go to college, he has something to fall back on," she said.

Eight teachers, four parents, one student and the founding principal of Aspire, a middle school near Pelham Parkway in northern Bronx, spread out across a few rows of seats in the Brooklyn Tech auditorium.

They were separated from the education panel and DOE officials onstage by metal barricades and a phalanx of police officers.

Robert Gonzalez, an Aspire seventh grader, said the school could use more art and music classes and extra curricular activities, but that his teachers had been outstanding.

He said that, thanks to his teachers, he scored better on his state math and reading tests last year, his first at Aspire, than he had in elementary school. He mentioned how his reading teacher, Lina Kraja, was hit by a car during her lunch break this year, yet managed to have a paramedic call the school and explain what work her students should do for the rest of the day.

“I don’t think people realize how much teachers really care and want us to do good in life,” said Gonzalez, 12.

The school principal, Steven Cobb, tried to explain how the school he helped hatch six years ago was now in its final throes.

Cobb said the school population had fluctuated considerably from year to year, making planning difficult. He said eight teachers were absent for medical reasons for a full month or more last year and that, in the end, middle school students are a difficult bunch to reach.

At one point, Cobb waited in line, then addressed the education officials during his allotted two minutes at a public microphone — one of the few principals to do so Thursday night. He called this his “Hail Mary.”

Shortly before the panel voted to phase out Aspire, Cobb said the end of his school would not mean the end of his career in education.

“If you’re serious about having a positive impact on the lives of children,” said Cobb, 32, “then obstacles like this don’t stop you from doing what you’re called to do.”

Members of the citywide Panel for Educational Policy voted to approve all 23 DOE proposals to close or phase out schools.
Members of the citywide Panel for Educational Policy voted to approve all 23 DOE proposals to close or phase out schools.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

A few minutes later, he turned to the teachers seated behind him and said with a smile, “No matter the outcome, at 8:40 a.m. tomorrow, be at work.”

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