At a boisterous public hearing before members of the Panel for Educational Policy about the proposed federally-funded “turnaround” of Lehman High School, a clear message was sent.
About 850 people packed into Lehman High School’s auditorium on the evening of Monday, April 2, with many students, parents, and teachers offering testimony about how they want principal Rose LoBianco and her current staff to have a chance to turn around the school before federal intervention.
Amid teachers and supporters wearing t-shirts reading “Lehman United,” and denouncing of the DOE’s turnaround proposal which would allow it to affect a 50% turnover in staff, students offered testimony about all of the things they believe work, from its robotics and video teams which compete and sometimes win prestigious awards, to its athletic teams which have won numerous championships.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto lend his own support to parents’ plight. He asked that principal LoBianco be allowed to continue her own progress with the staff.
The closure and reopening of Lehman with a largely new staff and a new name is not a done deal, and its problems stem from DOE policy, he stated.
“I have always thought that Lehman was a good functioning community school,” Benedetto said.“This is not a problem that has come from within, but from without.”
For the past two years, Lehman High School has received an F on its school report card, but was a B-rated school prior to that, and principal LoBianco has effected a marked improvement over the last several months, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who sent a representative, said.
Citing “rash” decisions that the DOE has made since the former principal Robert Leder left the school, and that suspensions were down 62%, a spokesman for Vacca testified about the councilman’s belief in the school.
“For years he had seen Lehman thrive, year in and year out,” Vacca’s spokesman stated. “Lehman is still one of the best schools around.”
A DOE representative countered that the improvement at Lehman in recent months was “marginal.” Community Board 10 district manager Ken Kearns said that the school is a cherished institution in the community.
Community members who attended the hearing called it an eye-opening experience.
“It is far from a perfect school, and it could be better, and it is the DOE’s job to make the school better, but they don’t appear to know how,” said Mary Jane Musano, a member of the Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association with a background in education.
The fact that only three members of the 13-member Panel For Educational Policy, eight of which are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, even showed up at the hearing tells the public all they need to know, said Sandi Lusk, of the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization.
Affecting a 50% turnover in the staff is by implication stating that half of the staff is ineffective, said Lehman film teacher James McSherry, a celebrated local author who was a student at Lehman and has been on staff since 1990.
McSherry may now have to reapply for his job.