DeWitt Clinton High School escaped the ax this week, but Lehman High School wasn’t as lucky in the latest round of city school phase-outs and closures.
Despite improvement on Lehman’s progress report for the 2011-12 school year the city Department of Education announced on Monday, Jan. 7 it is proposing to “phase-out” the school.
Lehman most recently posted an overall D grade, up from an F in 2010-11.
DeWitt Clinton received an F on its latest progress report, but held a high-spirited early engagement meeting with DOE officials on Dec. 6 that drew on its large alumni network and a high level of student enthusiasm.
If completed, a Lehman phase-out would mean not accepting a ninth grade class in September, and gradually decreasing enrollment with each graduating class, with the school shuttered for good in three years.
Also facing phase-out in the Bronx are Jonathan Levin High School in Mount Eden, M.S. 203 in Mott Haven, P.S. 64 in Mount Eden, and M.S. 142 in Baychester.
DOE officials contend the schools replacing those proposed for phase out will offer better educational opportunities.
“We expect success,” said DOE deputy chancellor Marc Sternberg. “After a rigorous review of academic performance, we’re proposing to phase out a select number of low-performing schools.”
Sternberg added: “We’ve listened to the community and provided comprehensive support services to these schools based on their needs. Ultimately, we know we can better serve our students and families with the new options and a new start.”
Local elected officials were miffed over the decision on Lehman, the only zoned high school for the Throggs Neck area.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto said DOE appears to be following through on similar plans it made last year that were blocked by a United Federation of Teachers lawsuit.
“I am annoyed, disturbed and furious, but I am not surprised,” he said Benedetto of the phase-out proposal for Lehman.
A former teacher with almost four decades’ experience, he questioned DOE’s school rating methods.
“[The DOE’s] whole educational model is…a whole bunch of small high schools with a more personal touch,” said Benedetto.
While there is merit to that approach, he believes Lehman is suffering because of the DOE’s own bad decisions and policies.
“It is like a kid murdering their parents, and then going to the court and telling them ‘please be easy on me, I am an orphan,” said Benedetto.
Councilman Jimmy Vacca said he believes that if the zoning of the school were adhered to – sending students mostly from local communities – there would be roughly 2,500 students at Lehman.
With the closure of other large comprehensive Bronx high schools over the past decade, enrollment at Lehman hit 4,200, said Vacca.
The DOE subsequently decreased enrollment to less that 3,000.
Principal Rose LoBianco should be given more time to turn the school around, said Vacca, who called the phase out plan a “slow bloodletting for the next three years.”
“Lehman High School had 30 years of success before the Department of Education brought this school to its knees,” he said. “and the tools the school administration implemented last year, including a new principal, have barely been given a chance to make a difference.”
Vacca acknowledged that the trend citywide has been away from larger zoned high schools, and a DOE spokesman recently said that there is no longer any such thing as “zoned schools” in the New York City system.
At a meeting of the Lehman High School Parent Association Tuesday evening, Jan. 8, Lehman principal LoBianco laid out her case for saving the school.
She said that despite her being appointed principal as the school bottomed out at an F rating over a year ago, and a turnaround plan that could have led to excessing of up to 50% of the school’s teachers last year that caused turmoil with the staff, Lehman opened up six smaller academies of about 500 students each.
The academies seek to give students the benefits of a smaller school without losing any of the benefits of a larger school, she said.
DOE representative Elaine Gorman said at the PA meeting that if Lehman is phased out, three new smaller high schools would gradually be phased there.
Any student close to graduation by or before August 2016 who is already in Lehman can remain there, Gorman added, and guidance counselors will work to find those who cannot graduate in that time another “path” to graduation.
Many parents working with the Lehman PA have decided to fight the closure. Gorman said the DOE will hold a meeting at Lehman in late-February to give parents and stakeholders a chance to speak about the school.
Carlos Blanco, a parent working with the PA, said a massive reach-out to parents will bein in the next ten days “to ensure that parents’ voices are heard and that they do make a difference.”
Parents can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, said Blanco.
He said he believes that Principal LoBianco should be given at least three years to implement her ideas for Lehman.
Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393