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Parents and Teachers Rally to Save Washington Irving

By Mary Johnson | January 26, 2012 9:46am

UNION SQUARE — Armed with leaflets, parents and teachers from Washington Irving High School headed to Union Square on Wednesday in an effort to save their endangered school.

Washington Irving is on the chopping block, along with several other schools in New York City. But advocates argue the school’s damning statistics—an overall F grade and a graduation rate at less than 50 percent—are misleading and don’t tell the whole story about the century-old high school.

The flyers being passed out on Wednesday urged passersby to attend one of two public meetings being held in the coming weeks about the fate of Washington Irving, which the mayor has said he would now like to replace with a software engineering academy. The first meeting will be held at the high school on Irving Place and East 17th Street on Jan. 31. The next, a parent and student rally, will take place in Union Square on Feb. 1.

“We’re trying to get the message out that this is failure by design,” said Gregg Lundahl, a longtime teacher at Washington Irving.

The school was awarded tens of thousands of dollars in federal funds this past September to help transform it. The goal was to give the school a few years of extra money to see if the administration and faculty could turn things around. But a few months later, the school was marked for closure.

The school’s low graduation rate has been cited as a main cause for the shutdown. Fewer than 50 percent of Washington Irving students graduated in 2011, and just 30 percent went on to two - or four-year colleges, officials said.

But faculty members at Washington Irving said the statistics can’t be taken at face value. The school has a high percentage of at-risk and special education students, a population that presents unique challenges, Lundahl said.

“Our kids don’t lead perfect lives,” he added.

“They’re accepted here,” said Sharon Talbot, who son is a sophomore at the school and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “Nobody throws them out.”

Poor attendance is also a huge problem at the school, advocates said, and it’s lowered the overall performance of the student body.

“I’m upset because the city is not assisting in finding our missing students to bring them in,” said Marian Burnbaum, coordinator for the law and public service program at Washington Irving. “Our school is not a detective agency.”

Lizbeth Colin, 32, mother of a freshman at Washington Irving, took turns handing out flyers and collecting signatures for a petition protesting the school’s closure.

“She’s in ninth grade. She just started,” Colin said of her daughter, Kelly Romero, who was also handing out flyers in Union Square.

“The teachers have been very supportive,” Colin said. “And this is the kind of teachers we want for our kids.”

There will be a joint public forum discussing the fate of Washington Irving on Jan. 31, to be held at Washington Irving High School from 6 to 8 p.m.