FDA III middle school in danger

Two Bronx schools could close soon, the Department of Education announced on Wednesday, December 2 and Friday, December 4. The DOE has proposed that no new students attend the Frederick Douglass Academy III middle school in Claremont and the School for Community Research and Learning, a high school in Soundview.

Both schools have underperformed, a DOE spokesman stated. But some parents and teachers strongly disagree.

“I’m very upset,” FDA III parent association president Roccio Gonzalez said. “My son has done extremely well at the school. Parents are generally satisfied. The school is safe. Safety officers and students [interact] on a first-name basis.”

Public hearings will be held and public comments accepted for 45 days. In late January, the city Panel for Education Policy will vote. Each borough president appoints one panel member and the mayor appoints eight. DOE Chancellor Joel Klein is an ex-officio member.

Although the FDA III high school has been successful, its middle school has failed to make progress, DOE spokesman Will Havemann said. While the FDA III middle school hosts School District 9’s gifted program and has a selective admissions policy, it has underperformed on math and English Language Arts tests compared to other middle schools in the district.

The DOE considers only 52.1 percent of FDA III middle school students proficient in ELA and 68.4 percent in math, compared to 52.2 percent and 71.6 percent district-wide. The FDA III middle school earned a B on its 2006-2007 DOE progress report but a D on its 2007-2008 report and a C on its 2008-2009 report.

The DOE awards progress report grades based on student test results, graduation and attendance rates and student and parent surveys. The FDA III middle school earned F’s on the “progress” portions of its 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 reports.

“FDA III is not fulfilling its purpose of offering students a seamless educational experience from sixth grade through high school graduation,” Havemann stated.

The DOE has proposed a “phase-out” of the FDA III middle school “to allow the principal and school staff to focus on and build on the success of the high school.” Only half of FDA III eighth graders re-enroll at the high school, Havemann said.

An FDA III middle school teacher who asked to remain anonymous called the DOE’s evaluation unfair. Because FDA III middle school students are gifted, there’s less room for school test scores to progress, the teacher said.

Community Board 3 education committee chair Vanessa Wallace disagreed. Wallace admits that DOE progress reports are less than perfect but doesn’t buy the teacher’s excuse. Gifted students in Riverdale continue to progress, she said.

Gonzalez son is an honor roll ninth grader. He started at FDA III as a sixth grader.

“He had very good middle school teachers,” Gonzalez said. “Before middle school he struggled in math. Now he gets A’s and B’s.”

The FDA III middle school boasts a strict uniform policy, Gonzalez added. Her son took an optional state Regents Exam prep course in eighth grade and passed the exam. FDA III middle school students’ grades are updated online for parents to check.

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

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