Christopher Columbus High School sets final sail

Christopher Columbus High School has entered its final year, with little to no resources. But a push is being made to restore some resources for the remaining senior class.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

It’s already been written off long before it’s set to close.

With the famed Christopher Columbus High School going into its final school year, the senior class has already lost.

While the remaining students will have its state-mandated classes available, they won’t have Advanced Placement courses, special electives or art classes.

Teaching resources at the school have been reduced to a skeleton level.

Principal Lisa Maffei-Fuentes has had to resort to making something out of nothing, getting creative to ensure state-mandated classes for high-needs students. This year will be her toughest.

For instance, she no longer has an art teacher, despite some students still required to fulfill their art credit to graduate.

She’ll reluctantly force students to take a filtered on-line version.

“I don’t want them to take art or music on-line,” said Fuentes, noting that many students take the course unsupervised.

Without enough licensed teachers, she has had to cancel Advanced Placement and Spanish courses.

But Maffei-Fuentes, who calls her students “my children,” hasn’t thrown in the towel just yet.

“I can’t change what’s happening,” she said. “But I need to support them and provide for their needs.”

Some of that help will come from the non-profit, which is looking to help fund some courses sliced by the city Department of Education.

Negative report card

It took the DOE nearly a decade to permanently place CCHS on the closure list. Columbus earned a D on its last report card, with only 37% of students graduating in four years.

In it’s golden age, Columbus was a massive neighborhood school housed inside an enormous building, with 3,500 students, among them in the past were Oscar-winning actress Anne Bancroft, Councilman Jimmy Vacca and Sen. Jeff Klein. These days, roughly 200 students attend.

The Bloomberg administration, believing smaller schools would result in higher grades, broke up the campus, introducing six other schools with different teaching staffs.

Since dying a slow death, morale at Columbus has dwindled as its school budget has been siphoned to the other schools.

“A lot of the spirit is lost,” said Denise Williams, a ten-year assistant principal who’s witnessed the school’s gradual demise.

Non-profit help

To stem the lack of resources, Maffei-Fuentes accepted help from Mary Conway-Spiegel, head of the Partnership for Student Advocacy.

Conway-Spiegel arrived in 2010, shocked to see the DOE’s systematic withdrawal of resources.

“This is stealing,” said Conway-Spiegel. “This is taking away from one segment of our population to benefit another segment.”

The non-profit has since sought to raise just over $600,000 needed to restore Advanced Placement, culinary/art and foreign language classes, as well as trips to area colleges for the remaining student body.

“There’s no vegan meals, no iPods, no trips to Guadalajara on this list,” said Conway-Spiegel. “This is what every kid gets in the United States.”

Conway-Spiegel has secured funds for a Kaplan SAT prep course for 27 students, starting next month.

Next, she’s set to host a public benefit Sept. 17 at the school, hoping guests will step up and donate to the cause. “It will be nice to get people together and chat,” said Conway-Spiegel. “At a time when it’s frankly sad.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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