Two City High Schools Given Last Minute Reprieve From Closure

By Jill Colvin on April 26, 2012 12:15pm 

Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn and Grover Cleveland High School in Queens were pulled from the agenda of Thursday's night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting. PEP meetings typically stretch for several hours, with the noise rarely dipping below a dull roar.
Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn and Grover Cleveland High School in Queens were pulled from the agenda of Thursday's night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting. PEP meetings typically stretch for several hours, with the noise rarely dipping below a dull roar.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MANHATTAN — The city has removed two beloved high schools from the closure list in a last-minute reprieve that comes hours before a final vote Thursday night.

Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn and Grover Cleveland High School in Queens were scrubbed from the agenda of Thursday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, the Department of Education announced early Thursday.

Local advocates, students and public officials in Bushwick said they were thrilled at the news.

"We definitely are thankful to the DOE for making the right decision," said Jesus Gonzalez, a former student at Bushwick Community High School and an organizer with the advocacy group Make the Road New York, which has fought for the school's survival.

Gonzalez, 27, who graduated in 2005 from the school, emphasized that the institution had a compelling case to remain open.

Bushwick Community High School offers a second chance for 17 to 21-year-olds who have not yet obtained their degrees, and the students can enter the school without a single previous high school credit — the only alternative school in the city to offer such an option.

"We were being persecuted because of the negative data that came with those students," said Gonzalez in a phone interview. He called today's mood at the school "celebratory."

“I applaud the students and the community partners for their fierce advocacy in preserving the educational mission of Bushwick Community High School,” said Council Member Diana Reyna in a statement.

“We are pleased with the decision from the Department of Education to remain committed to students under credited and over age. The Department of Education has sent a clear message that these children are not failures and that a second chance truly means a second chance.”

The panel, which has never rejected a proposed closing, is still expected to vote on plans to shutter 24 other struggling schools, including Harlem’s Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School and Hell’s Kitchen’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts.

"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," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

"We have come to believe that two of those 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."

Both Cleveland and Bushwick received 'B's on their most recent progress reports, and had received an outpouring of community support, with parents, alumni and students begging the city to save their schools.

They were among 33 the city had designated to close under a special "turnaround" model, which allows the department to fire up to half of a school’s teachers, without following union rules, and reopen in the fall under a different name.

Leaders of the teacher’s union have been livid about the city's decision to use this tactic, and advocates are planning a major protest at City Hall at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, ahead of the PEP hearing.

PEP meetings in the past have been extremely heated, with parents, teachers and students testifying to save their schools well past midnight.

An additional seven of the original 33 schools, including Harlem Renaissance High School, were spared the ax earlier this month because of signs of progress.

The PEP meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the Prospect Heights Campus at 883 Classon Ave. in Brooklyn.

Meredith Hoffman contributed reporting.

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