Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School senior Jordan Lopez was happy to hear that the Department of Education won’t phase out Smith’s successful auto program.
Trouble is, Lopez belongs to the south Bronx school’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning program. The HVAC and building trades programs will be phased out.
“The Bronx should have a school that teaches building trades,” Lopez of Allerton Avenue, 17, said. “I hope to get a union job, even start my own business.”
On Wednesday, January 20, the DOE announced that it would spare Smith’s auto program in response to feedback from students, teachers, parents and alumni. The DOE originally planned to axe the school altogether.
Rather than determine the Smith’s fate on Tuesday, January 26, when it voted to phase out six Bronx schools, the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on a revised DOE proposal for Smith in February.
The revised proposal would keep the auto program at Smith and open two new schools for overage and under-credited students. The two new schools would focus on engineering training and education, DOE spokesman Danny Kanner said. Smith currently enrolls nearly 1,100 students.
The auto program would keep the name Alfred E. Smith, Kanner added. The DOE revised its proposal because Smith’s is the only auto program of its kind in the Bronx, because it has won national recognition and because it lands students internships at car manufacturers such as BMW of Manhattan, Riverdale Chrysler and Lexus of Queens.
Smith teacher Bruce Harris, who ran the auto program for several years and was nearly named auto teacher of the year in 2007, was also glad to hear that the program would continue. But reliable information on the DOE’s plans has been hard to come by at Smith, Harris said.
“I feel bad for the building trades,” he added. “They work as hard as we do.”
The DOE targeted Smith in part because the school’s graduation rate dipped to 45.7 percent in 2009. Harris wishes the DOE would send students to Smith who truly want to study auto technology and the building trades, he said. Lopez agreed.
“The kids who want to learn a trade do well,” Lopez said. “I enjoy HVAC because it involves electrical work and physics. The only reason Smith has [a poor] graduation rate is that half of the students who come here don’t want to learn a trade.”
Harris thinks student-led protests prior to public hearings on the phase-out proposal helped but some suspect that the DOE always intended to save the auto program, in order to appease angry students, teachers, parents and alumni.
Pete Gonzalez is an HVAC teacher.
“I think [the January 20 announcement] was pre-planned,” Gonzalez said.
Smith building trades students go on to staff the city’s School Construction Authority and the Local 3 electrical workers union, he explained. Many helped build the new Yankee Stadium. Smith’s HVAC program is one of only two in the city, Gonzalez said.
“Our program is nationally recognized, too,” he maintained.
Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@c
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