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School closing opposed

As Community Board 11 wrapped up its vote on a motion to defend Christopher Columbus High School against a city Department of Education phase-out plan, board member Vinny Prezioso began to hum the school song.

CB11, which includes a score of Columbus alumni, passed the motion and will ask the DOE to reconsider its plan. Prezioso graduated from the Pelham Parkway school in 1958.

“Columbus has been around since the 1930s,” Prezioso said. “Why close it down?”

In early December, the DOE proposed that Columbus High School and Global Enterprise Academy, a small high school on the Columbus campus, enroll no new ninth graders starting fall 2010.

Columbus’ graduation rate is low; it was 36.9 percent in 2007-2008 and 40 percent in 2008-2009, DOE spokesman Will Havemann said. Enrollment has decreased by more than 1,000 students since 2004-2005, Havemann added.

Columbus earned a D on its DOE progress report for 2008-2009 and a C on its report for 2007-2008. Global Enterprise earned Cs for 2008-2009 and 2007-2008. Some Columbus boosters dispute the DOE statistics and argue that the school has made progress. Many Columbus students need more than four years to graduate but eventually succeed, the boosters argue.

DOE progress report grades are based on student test results, graduation and attendance rates and student, parent and teacher surveys. Schools are rewarded or punished based on the grades. Some are closed and replaced by smaller schools. There are already four small schools on the Columbus campus.

Some Columbus boosters contend that the school does its best to educate the borough’s most challenged students, those that newer and smaller schools refuse. The DOE has asked that no one blame challenged Columbus students for the proposed phase-out; other schools educate similiar students better, he said.

Some Columbus boosters think Mayor Michael Bloomberg and DOE Chancellor Joel Klein want to replace old schools staffed by union teachers with small schools and charter schools. Plans to close and replace Columbus and Global Enterprise could include a charter school, the DOE confirmed.

Prezioso suspects the DOE of political calculations. Columbus struggles because it enrolls hundreds of immigrant students who don’t speak English, he said. The DOE should ask the neighborhood whether it wants to see Columbus closed or not, Prezioso added.

The DOE will hold a public hearing on its phase-out plan at Columbus on Thursday, January 7. In late January, the city Panel for Education Policy will vote. Each borough president appoints one panel member and the mayor appoints eight.

CB11 member Joe Thompson described Columbus as a haven for challenged students. Thompson has witnessed principal Lisa Fuentes take troubled students under her wing, he said. If Columbus were to close, those students would be quarantined in small schools, Thompson predicted.

Thompson fears that Columbus’ demise would damage extracurriculars on the Columbus campus. Students at the campus’ small schools play Columbus High School sports and join Columbus High School clubs. When the DOE closed Evander Childs High School, extracurriculars on the Evander Childs campus suffered, Thompson charged.

“We need to develop well-rounded people,” he said. “To close Columbus would be a gross mistake.”

The DOE allocates fewer dollars per students in the Bronx than it does in Staten Island, Thompson added. The DOE should help Fuentes, rather than shutter the school, he said.

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

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