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Wadleigh Middle School Will Not Close As Planned, DOE Announces

By Jeff Mays | February 8, 2012 7:11pm

HARLEM — The Department of Education announced Wednesday that it will not close the middle school at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts after several elected officials and celebrities such as Cornel West decried the plan.

Among the vocal critics of the plan was Assemblyman Keith Wright, who compared the city's move to close schools in the neighborhood year after year to Glen Close's character in the classic 1987 thriller "Fatal Attraction."

"When it comes to schools, the Bloomberg Administration is like the woman in 'Fatal Attraction.' You think she died, but she keeps rearing her ugly head. I hope it stops," Wright said of the school closures.

The move came after a raucous joint hearing at Wadleigh on 114th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, held by Community Education Council 3 and the DOE, where politicians, parents, teachers, students and clergy vowed to take whatever steps were necessary to keep the school open. Mayoral hopefuls including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio all spoke out against Wadleigh's closure.

"We made a decision to withdraw our proposals to truncate Wadleigh Secondary school and phase out Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII [in Brooklyn]," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement. "And so while these two schools continue to struggle, what we learned is that they are also poised to quickly improve."

The principal at Wadleigh will be replaced by Tyee Chin, from Edward R. Murrow HS. He has experience on the middle and high school level.

On Wednesday, elected officials, including Councilwoman Inez Dickens and Assemblymen Wright, praised the decision.

Dickens got a call from Walcott at about 2:30 p.m. where the chancellor said, "You won," she said.

Wadleigh's proposed closing was especially contentious because of the DOE plan for Harlem Success Academy Middle School to move into the building, where two schools are already co-located.

The Eva Moskowitz-run charter school planned to move two grades into the building Wadleigh now shares with two other schools — a move that is still in the works.

"It's almost like they wanted the school to fail. It seemed to me like it was part of a co-location conspiracy," said Wright.

Dickens said she asked Walcott whether the planned co-location could be eliminated, but Walcott said that was still on the table.

"The fight is not over because the issue of co-location. We are concerned about a third school going there," said Dickens.

Chief Academic Officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky told Wadleigh supporters last month that the school was being closed due to its performance.

There are only 86 students in grades 6 to 8. Only 16 percent are at or above their grade level in English and only 26 percent in math. Attendance at the school, too, ranks in the bottom 1 percent of all city middle schools, he said.

"There are real concerns about what's happening in Wadleigh Middle School," Polakow-Suransky said at the joint hearing.

School officials said they believed Wadleigh could be turned around because of its small enrollment. There were only 86 students at the middle school versus 441 for the high school.

Wright said he is currently circulating a draft of a bill that would remove mayoral control of the schools, specifically because of the situation happening at schools like Wadleigh.

"I'm sure there will be more sponsors than people think," he said.