Today’s news:

Columbus High School on chopping block

The city Department of Education has announced that Christopher Columbus High School and Global Enterprise Academy, a small high school on the Columbus campus, could be closed. The schools would enroll no new ninth graders starting fall 2010, DOE spokesman Will Havemann said.

Columbus’ graduation rate is low; it was 36.9 percent in 2007-2008 and 40 percent in 2008-2009, 20 percentage points below the city average, Havemann said. Enrollment fell from 1,429 students in 2008-2009 to 1,361 students in 2009-2010, he added. Enrollment has decreased by more than 1,000 students since 2004-2005.

Only 11 percent of students zoned for Columbus attend the school, Havemann said. Only 64 percent of students feel inspired to learn and only 64 percent feel safe at school, a 2008-2009 DOE survey found. Only 66 percent of teachers feel that order and discipline are maintained at Columbus, the survey also found.

Columbus earned a D on its DOE progress report for 2008-2009 and a C on its report for 2007-2008. Global Enterprise earned C’s for 2008-2009 and 2007-2008.

The DOE awards progress report grades based on student test results, graduation and attendance rates and student and parent surveys. Schools are rewarded or punished based on the grades. Some are closed and replaced by smaller schools.

Plans to close and replace Columbus and Global Enterprise could include a charter school, DOE Deputy Chancellor John White said. The DOE will choose the best school or schools for Columbus’ challenged student population, White explained.

The DOE will hold a public hearing at Columbus soon. In late January, the city Panel for Education Policy will vote. Each borough president appoints one panel member and the mayor appoints eight. DOE Chancellor Joel Klein is an ex-officio member.

If okayed by the panel, the new school or schools would “phase-in” at the Columbus campus as Columbus and Global Enterprise are “phased-out,” White said. Although most replacement schools are new, the DOE would also consider schools that already exist in other locations. The 435 new schools opened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg graduate more students than old schools do, White contended.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca, a Columbus alumnus, called the news sad.

“Columbus has successfully educated hundreds of thousands of students and was often considered second only to Bronx Science,” Vacca said.

The councilman admitted that Columbus has issues that must be addressed but alleged that the DOE has contributed to problems at the school. While the DOE has opened small schools, Columbus has absorbed more and more English language learners, transfer students and students with special needs, Vacca said.

“This type of problem has occurred at the larger high schools throughout the city and now these high schools are said to be failing,” Vacca stated. “It’s a cycle that the DOE must address when they meet with parents and hold the required public hearing.”

Pelham Preparatory Academy,  Astor Collegiate High School and the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science, also small schools at the Columbus campus, will remain open, White said. The DOE is required to re-hire 50 percent of “qualified” Columbus and Global enterprise teachers. But it needn’t re-hire any if none are qualified, White said.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will look into each proposed Bronx school closure on an individual basis, the borough president said.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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