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City Proposes Closing 3 Struggling Brooklyn Schools

By Camille Bautista | December 15, 2015 7:48am
 The city is proposing to shutter three Brooklyn schools due to under-enrollment and poor performance, including Foundations Academy High School and The School for the Urban Environment, located on Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The city is proposing to shutter three Brooklyn schools due to under-enrollment and poor performance, including Foundations Academy High School and The School for the Urban Environment, located on Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The city’s Department of Education plans to shutter three under-performing schools, citing low enrollment and ongoing challenges in improving academic achievement, officials announced Monday.

Closing two traditional middle schools and one high school — all in Brooklyn — would be a first for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which has pushed to turn around struggling schools through the city’s “Renewal” program instead of shuttering them.

The DOE is proposing to close two Renewal Schools — Peace Academy Middle School and Foundations Academy High School — along with The School for the Urban Environment by the end of the 2015-2016 school year.  

If approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, the three sites would be effectively shut down and not “phased out” through a gradual process, officials said.

School District 13’s Peace Academy on Willoughby Avenue and School District 14’s School for the Urban Environment on Tompkins Avenue had the lowest enrollments for middle schools in the city in 2014-2015, according to the DOE.

Foundations Academy High School, located on the same block as Urban Environment, had the city’s fourth-lowest graduation rate last year, officials said.

Officials cited difficulties in retaining students and limited enrichment programs due to lack of additional funding in all three schools.

None of the sites slated for closure is able to provide state-mandated courses such as math, English or science, city representatives said.

“Closing a school is always a difficult decision. I am committed to holding all our schools accountable to meeting the needs of our students,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

“Schools with such a low enrollment cannot provide the robust education our students deserve. We will work closely with families and students at these schools to make sure they are supported and enroll in new schools that will better meet their needs and lead to better student outcomes.”

The proposals mark a first for an administration that has yet to shutter traditional schools, though officials have made clear that closure was not off the table in terms of options. 

Fariña has moved to merge struggling or under-enrolled schools with others to avoid closure, and the city’s Schools Renewal Program aims to help 94 of the lowest-performing sites throughout the five boroughs.

“I’ve visited Renewal Schools with the chancellor and, judging from the schools I’ve walked and the progress I’ve seen, I expect many of these schools to turn around,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement, adding that “there is a lot more work to do.”

“But sometimes, even with New York City’s thoughtful and aggressive improvement strategy, hard choices have to be made. … The chancellor’s decision to close these schools wasn’t easy, but it was right.”

Students at all three schools received letters to take home Monday, according to officials, and the DOE will email and call families to inform them of the proposals.

One sixth-grader at Urban Environment said she learned of the announcement from the school’s principal, who visited her classroom.

Another seventh-grader said she was worried about where she would attend classes next year.

“I’m going to miss it,” the 13-year-old said. “Yeah, it’s a small school, but we don’t have enough space because the charter school we share it with is taking up all the space in the school. It’s not our fault.

“I feel sorry for the teachers because they have to look for new jobs.”

A total of 24 teachers work in the three Brooklyn schools, according to the DOE, which said they would work with staff and principals to find alternative placements.

“It is always regrettable to close a school, which has indelible ties to the community it serves,” Council of School Supervisors & Administrators President Ernest Logan said in a statement.

The three Bed-Stuy schools slated for closure “present unique challenges which make closure the best option” for the chancellor, Logan added, saying his group will work with the DOE and the local community during the transition.  

A representative for the city’s teacher’s union was not immediately available for comment.

Some students at Peace Academy said they had not been personally informed of their school’s proposed closure but received letters for their parents and guardians.

The DOE plans to host individual town hall meetings for each school prior to the December school break, officials said, and public hearings are scheduled for February to get feedback on the proposals.

The city will also work to find schools for affected students. Middle school students will have a guaranteed seat in their districts, while high school students can be placed throughout the city, according to the DOE.