Hearing on Lehman High School closing

The Department of Education is moving forward with the proposed federal turnaround plan for Lehman High School and the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public hearing on Lehman’s fate Monday, April 2.

The city Department of Education has made Lehman one of 10 middle and high schools in the borough that it plans to have apply for federal “turnaround” funding, said Monica Major, a member of the Panel For Educational Policy that was named by Borough President Ruben Diaz. The school is already part of the federal “restart” program. The public hearing on the proposed “turnaround” is at Lehman High School at 6 p.m. on April 2.

The move by the mayor and the Department of Education would not affect seats reserved for students already in Lehman, but would allow the DOE to affect a 50 percent turnover in the school’s staff, said Councilman Jimmy Vacca. Vacca feels that Lehman principal Rose LoBianco, who has been at the school for less than a year, should be given the opportunity to improve the school herself before any decisions are made as to whether the school should enter the “turnaround” model.

“In the past year, since principal LoBianco was appointed, we have already seen a turnaround of the school that has been noticed by parents, teachers, and students,” Vacca said. “We want to give this turnaround a chance.”

The federal “turnaround” model is normally used in cases where there is a persistently low-achieving school community, and Lehman has just had a few years of sub-par performance stemming from the resignation and retirement of longtime principal Robert Leder in 2008 after he had been principal for 28 years, Vacca said.

“Lehman has had difficulty in the past two years because Mr. Leder was there for 28 years, and then it took the DOE two years to find out that the person who had been placed in the position of principal was inappropriate,” Vacca said. “By then the school had experienced a precipitous decline.”

Part of this decline was brought about by the Department of Educations own policies, which led to the shutting down of many large high schools in surrounding communities that brought the number of students at Lehman High School to over 4,200, with many at risk kids, Vacca said. The DOE has acknowledged that the school is overcrowded, and has agreed to reduce the amount of students attending Lehman High School to 3,000 by September 2012, Vacca said.

Community Board 10 has written a letter of support of Principal LoBianco, urging the DOE to let her implement her program for the school before making any personnel changes.

Although Lehman received an F on its overall progress report for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, the last few months have seen a dramatic improvement, said Senator Jeff Klein, in a letter to the DOE. About 19 percent of Lehman High School students took college preparation courses, and 15 percent of students were considered college ready, well above the average for similar schools throughout New York City, Klein stated.

“The community, teachers and administration have been working tirelessly on their own ‘turnaround’ policy for the high school which is showing positive results in just the few months it has been implemented,” Klein said. “I would ask that phase-out be stalled for at least another year to give the new principal and administration more time to implement their programs.”

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