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Washington Irving High School, Wadleigh Middle School Marked for Closure

By DNAinfo Staff on December 9, 2011 5:41pm

Washington Irving High School is among the schools marked for closure by the DOE.
Washington Irving High School is among the schools marked for closure by the DOE.
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By Jill Colvin and Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Gramercy's famed Washington Irving High School has been added to the list of city schools slated for closure, the Department of Education announced Friday.

The historic school, the first for girls in the city, joins the Legacy School For Integrated Studies near Union Square and the Manhattan Theatre Lab High School on the Upper West Side, along with 16 other schools city-wide that officials want to “phase out" one grade at a time.

Like Legacy and Theatre Lab, the chronically low-performing Washington Irving, which counts "View" host Joy Behar and actress Claudette Colbert among its grads and dates to 1913, received an 'F' on its most recent progress report. The school, which was designated by the state as Persistently Low Achieving last year, has long struggled with low graduation rates.

Last year, less than 50 percent of students graduated in four years and only 30 percent of students enrolled in a two- or four-year college, well below the city's average. The school was recently granted tens of thousands of thousands of federal dollars to fund improvements.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the phase-out decisions come after two months of discussion with schools flagged as "struggling."

"We can't afford to have schools that are not supporting our children," Walcott told reporters after a town hall meeting with parents this week.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who has previously sued the city to attempt to stop school closings, slammed the announcement and accused the DOE of turning its back on students, principals and teachers instead of helping them improve.

“Rather than doing the hard work of helping struggling schools, the DOE tries to close them, making sure that the hardest-to-educate kids end up concentrated in the next school on the closure list,” he said Thursday, when the first round of closures was announced.

Mulgrew said that members will be closely monitoring the process to make sure the city abides by all state laws.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio accused the DOE of being "too willing to close schools without exhausting other forms of intervention."

"This latest round of closures is yet another indictment of the Administration’s failed policies," he said.

In addition to the phase-outs, the DOE is also planning to remove middle school grades from nine city schools, including Harlem's Wadleigh Secondary School For The Performing Arts.

Wadleigh, Harlem's only performing arts school, was one of two schools that professor and activist Cornel West had vowed to protect from closure earlier this month.

In the fall, Eva Moskowitz' Harlem Success Academy Middle School is expected to move two grades into the building Wadleigh now shares with two other schools, which has drawn criticism from many activists.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens said she is pleased that Wadleigh's high school will remain open and that Frederick Douglass Academy II will remain untouched but that she is "not satisfied" with the decision to phase out Wadleigh's middle school or to co-locate Moskowitz' school at Wadleigh.

"I will not absolutely consider or accept further encroachment of the proposed charter school into Wadleigh. They are not going to phase out public school grades to make way for the Harlem Success Academy," said Dickens.

Noah Gotbaum, a member of Community Education Council 3 said the closure of the middle school does not bode well for the future of the high school.

"You undermine the feeder for the high school and you undermine the school as a whole," said Gotbaum. "All they are doing is privatizing our schools. They are closing public schools to make room for a charter that is moving in at the same time."

Gotbaum said the phasing out of the middle school also comes at a difficult time for CEC 3. Forecasts show that the district could be short 300 middle school seats next year.

'There is no strategy to invest in our schools other than shut them down," said Gotbaum.

Three other schools that had been placed on the struggling schools list, the Lower East Side's P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein elementary school, the High School Of Graphic Communication Arts in Hell's Kitchen and the Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School on the Upper West Side will be receiving intervention to try to help them improve, but have been spared from closure this year.

High School Of Graphic Communication Arts' new Principal Brendan Lyons, who started at the school this fall, applauded the decision, and said he felt the DOE had struck a balance between helping to improve the school and saving its legacy.

"We as a community have come together and openly acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do ahead of us. We value the opportunity in this decision to demonstrate that our students, families and staff are up to this challenge," he said. 

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin also applauded the decision not to shutter P.S. 137, which she had lobbied the DOE to maintain.

“Our schools do not need phase-outs, they need support," she said in a statement.

All of the closures and phase-outs must now be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, which is expected to vote Feb. 9 after a public hearing.

Last year the PEP voted to phase out 22 schools and close two others.

With reporting by Mathew Katz