Columbus High may go charter

For Christopher Columbus High School, it may be charter or bust.

The high school, which shares a building with four other high schools at 925 Astor Avenue, has been struggling academically for years.

Teachers and staff were unable to raise test scores enough to keep the school from being closed by the city Department of Education after the 2010-11 academic year.

Now, in a last ditch effort to save the school, principal Lisa Fuentes has joined with Councilman Jimmy Vacca and parent advocate Patricia Williams, the United Federations of Teachers and the University of Vermont, parents, faculty, and others toexplore the possibility of forming a charter school.

Columbus High School filed a letter of intent to apply for charter status with the state for the fall of 2011. The filing occurred with the state Department of Education on Monday, August 9. The school is scheduled to stop admitting freshmen in September.

“The Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers would have to agree with the conversion,” said Kerry Lyon, communications director for New York Center for Charter School Excellence.

Lyon noted that instead of dealing directly with the city DOE, the application went to the state DOE. A city DOE spokesman said that the plan for charter school conversion is not something commonly done.

In the letter of intent signed by Fuentes, the projected enrollment at the proposed Christopher Columbus Charter High School would be 1,110 for the 2011 academic year.

The school would partner with the University of Vermont — which has a summer exchange program with Columbus and has worked with the school a number of times before — to help facilitate the switch from being a public school to a charter school.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who graduated from Columbus High in 1973, said he wanted to see if the school could restore its reputation as a school that rivaled Bronx High School of Science. He believes the school needs to make itself a destination for students, and not a last resort.

“I was president of the student council when I attended Columbus High School, and like many of my alumni friends have been very upset by the decline of Columbus over many years and the plans to close Columbus,” Vacca said. “The plan is to keep Columbus open and reinvigorate it with needed support.”

Vacca said that he would support Columbus becoming a charter school if all of the stakeholders were brought together to make the school work. He said that without the charter conversion, the school must close because academics and parental involvement desperately need improvement.

“We certainly cannot go on as we have for the last several years,” he said.

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