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DOE deep sixes six Bronx schools

Weeks of protests, hip-hop videos, tears and a raucous nine-hour meeting in Brooklyn failed to rescue six Bronx schools on Wednesday, January 27.

At 3 a.m., the city Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out the School for Community Research and Learning, Monroe Academy for Business Law, New Day Academy, Columbus High School, Global Enterprise High School and the Frederick Douglass Academy III Middle School; 13 schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were also axed.

The Department of Education targeted schools with graduation rate near 50 percent, DOE spokesman Danny Kanner said.

By turns furious and crestfallen, Bronx students, teachers, parents and alumni battled as hard any as to keep the schools open. One Bronx institution has succeeded, to some extent. The DOE agreed to spare an auto program at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High School days after alumni posted a hip-hop ode to the school online.

“The DOE solicited public feedback on our phase-out proposals, speaking to hundreds of impacted parents, students and teachers,” Kanner said. “We took that substantive feedback and analysis seriously, and in the case of Alfred E. Smith, decided to significantly revise our proposal. Ultimately, the Panel for Educational Policy…decided these phase-outs were in the best interest of the students of the Bronx.”

The School for Community Research and Learning, a small school opened seven years ago on the Stevenson High School campus in Soundview, had no such luck.

“It wasn’t fair what happened,” said SCRL junior Leesage Perez, 16.

Perez attended the January 27 marathon. She applauded as her teachers blasted the DOE and cited statistics. When DOE Chancellor Joel Klein answered his phone, text messaged and took a break, Perez joined her friends to chant, “Shame on you!”

“He didn’t listen to us,” she said. “He didn’t care.”

Parents and teachers at SCRL and the rest blamed poor graduation rates and test scores on challenged students. The DOE dumped thousands of troubled students, special needs students and English language learners on the schools but offered only modest support.

One fourth of SCRL students are special needs, math teacher Jed Grobstein said. SCRL has made mistakes, Grobstein admitted. But the DOE never described how the school is set to replace SCRL would do better, he added.

“We think the DOE prefers to close schools with high numbers of special ed students rather than devote the resources necessary to educate those students,” Grobstein said.

The DOE has selected a new school, Bronx Bridges Community High School, to replace SCRL at Stevenson. SCRL will lose one grade each year and Bronx Bridges will add one each year until 2013.

Bronx Bridges, led by Pablo Villavicencio, will enroll all students, from English language learners to those with special needs, a statement on the DOE website explained.

“Our decision to propose the phase-out of new, small schools [such as SCRL] tells parents that we hold all schools accountable for results,” Kanner said. “Our new, small high schools, on average, graduate 75 percent of students.”

SCRL math teacher Matt Ellis, who stayed through the 3 a.m. vote, estimated that more than 2,000 people attended the January 27 meeting.

“There was a lot of passion in the crowd,” he said.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. had asked the DOE to explain why it, in some Bronx cases, ignored its own phase-out criteria.

“I am extremely disappointed,” Diaz Jr. said. “The DOE failed to provide answers. The voices of thousands of stakeholders were not truly heard.”

Perez is afraid that new schools like Bronx Bridges will exclude her younger sister, a special needs second grader, in order to buoy test scores, she said. SCRL parent association president Shantel Patterson credited SCRL teachers for her daughter’s success. She had planned to send her ten-year old son to SCRL. No longer.

Grobstein and Ellis are proud of SCRL students who protested. Ellis hopes the vote won’t discourage his kids.

“Some feel disrespected,” Grobstein said. “We plan to use that as a motivational tool.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed eight members of the 13-member panel.

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

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