3 Bronx failing schools targeted to close

Three New York City public schools in the Bronx will likely close at the end of the school year due to unmet academic benchmarks, the NYC Department of Education announced last week.

The three schools on the chopping block are Leadership Institute in Claremont Village, Junior High School 145 Arturo Toscanini in Belmont and Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design in Soundview.

The schools are part of the School Renewal Program put forth by the DOE in 2014 to help turn around struggling city schools.

Parents received letters from the education department Monday, January 9 announcing the their children’s schools would close at the end of the current school year. The letters cited substandard math and English language arts test scores, and in some cases declining enrollment, for the planned closings.

Parent information settings were scheduled for the evening of Thursday, January 12, at the schools to allow concerned parents and students to raise concerns and ask questions.

Students at Leadership Institute and their parents used the hearing as an opportunity to hold a rally outside the school calling on the DOE to keep their school open.

“I don’t even consider them classmates anymore – this is family,” said junior George Jiminez. “We have a family here and I really don’t want to give that up. Attendance went up, graduation, regents scores went up- we’ve done everything we could.”

Parent Natasha Vann, who spoke along with her junior class daughter Akira, said it simply wasn’t fair that students could be shipped to other schools across the city, despite the fact that the school met five of the seven benchmarks the the education department tasked them with and had created a welcoming learning community.

“It is not fair that they have to be shipped all the way to Brooklyn or all the way to Manhattan when this is the closest school to their home,” Vann said. “There are a lot of shelters here, right up the block for example, and those kids can’t afford to go anywhere else.”

Vann said the school had already boosted attendance from 60 percent to 80 percent, and simply needed more support than what it was getting from the DOE.

“They need more than what you are giving them,” Vann said. “I know what you are giving them, and it’s not enough to maintain a school.”

Veteran English and technology teacher at J.H.S. 145 Arturo Tuscanini Craig Moss said teachers faced hurdles at his school that made meeting the DOE benchmarks impossible.

“We have 298 students, and 140 of them arrived at the school directly from the Dominican Republic,” Moss said. “Forty-nine additional students are from another 17 different countries. We have 52 students living in shelters. These are tough conditions, and we do what we can.”

While many of those students speak English as their second language, the school is woefully short of English as second language, or ESL, teachers, Moss said.

“The renewal program was supposed to provide additional resources, but we have operated with no bilingual science teacher, no bilingual math teacher or ELA teacher or social studies teacher, just one EFL teacher to service 140 kids when the mandated number is one per 40 kids.”

The school had gone without an assistant principal this school year until just last week and only has one certified math teacher and one certified science teacher for the entre student body, and it hasn’t had a math coach in six years, Moss added.

“We faced tough odds, and we’re about to be punished for doing what we could with what we were given,” Moss said.

Some who worked at the struggling Renewal Schools said the writing had been on the wall for several years.

Tom Porton retired last year after 47 years as an English and drama teacher at James Monroe High School and then the current Monroe Academy after clashing with administrators over his efforts to teach AIDs prevention.

He said the renewal school program turnaround was set to fail from the start.

“Three years ago they announced the renewal schools and said the schools had three years to turn themselves around,” Porton said. “But they actually announced that almost a year into the three years, giving the schools only two years to turn themselves around. It was pretty clear the turnaround timetable was being manipulated towards closing the schools.”

The DOE’s philosophy that replacing large schools like the 70-year-old former James Monroe High School with several smaller schools in the same building to provide a better education for students was not working as well as planned.

“James Monroe was replaced by four schools, and every one of those schools has closed – this is the fourth,” he said. “And each school that replaced the old Monroe was replaced with another school. They closed the big school on the premise that the small schools were going to be so much better, and yet everything that replaced it has failed.”

The smaller schools also have less leadership and teacher competency, Porton said, since there are no academic departments led by department chairs but instead have one administrator overseeing all subjects.

“The level of incompetence at the small schools is pretty scary,” he said.

In addition Porton said having schools closing down on a regular basis not only hurts the community identity, but creates a logistical nightmare for graduates in need of documentation such as transcripts.

He said he feared Monroe would be replaced with yet another small school, or perhaps a charter school.

Also facing changes is the Young Scholars Academy, a middle school in Williamsbridge, which will be merged with another small middle school at the same location.

When reached for comment on the closings, a Department of Education spokesman stated the department will work closely with families of students from the closing and contracting schools to find a higher-performing school that meets their needs.

“All students will receive individualized enrollment support from the superintendent’s staff and Family Welcome Center counselors,” the department representative stated. “Families and school staff are encouraged to attend an upcoming forum to stay informed during this transition. All students will have the opportunity to attend a higher performing school next year.”.

Reach Reporter Arthur Cusano at (718) 742–4584. E-mail him at acusano@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @arthurcusano.

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