Lehman High School spared the axe

Students seen here expressed their views at a Feb. 26 hearing.

Now it has to prove itself.

After a last minute save from closure, Lehman High School now has a long shopping list of improvements needed to keep it from sliding back to a phase-out closure list.

It was saved on Thursday, March 7 by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who visited the school to break the news to Lehman principal Rose LoBianco.

As LoBianco has stated, among the tasks now facing the Lehman administration:

• Raising the school’s graduation rate, making it closer to the city average

• Increasing students’ credit accumulation

• Further implementation of strategies to improve “climate” and “culture” at Lehman

• Putting “the whole child” at the forefront of planning

A celebration

After hearing from the chancellor, LoBianco informed the entire high school community through the public address system, which created a “celebratory tone throughout the building,” said Lehman coordinator of student activities James Rodriguez.

“The news from Chancellor Walcott is a certification that all of our hard work and collective efforts have been recognized by the Department of Education,” said LoBianco. “We can now move forward as we continue to improve in our ability to educate the young men and women of Herbert H. Lehman High School.”

Lehman will see the co-location of three smaller high schools on its campus next schoool year, as well as a reduction in its size to about a 1,000 students by the 2016-17 school year.

The news comes on the heals of a public meeting at the school on Tuesday, Feb. 26 where Councilman Jimmy Vacca and representatives from Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto testified against the closure plan.

Although Lehman will be smaller in size, there will be an entering ninth grade class next year and the school will remain a zoned school for students in the surrounding communities, which pleased Vacca.

He had been concerned about the fate of students who had already selected Lehman as their ninth grade choice for the 2013-14 school year.

Three New Schools

“After several months of active community engagement, we believe that the combination of a smaller Lehman High School along with the creation of three new schools on the Lehman campus is the right recipe for improved student outcomes,” said Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia.

The Feb. 26 hearing featured data and testimony about the school making progress after receiving a F on two DOE report cards for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

The school’s overall grade rose to a D in 2011-12, and at the hearing, LoBianco said that more recent data shows more improvements.

Prior to three or four years ago, the school had a B rating, said Vacca. Since then, rapid changes in administration, school programming and curriculum, and the crowding of the school with an enrollment reached topped 4,200 students at one point, caused “major issues,” he said. The school has now been downsized to under 3,000 students, he said.

A New Plan

The three new smaller district high schools co-located in the building are not named other than by numbers in the new Education Impact Statement.

The original plan at Lehman was to reduce enrollment to about 2,585-2,625 students by the 2015-2016 school year. Now, the enrollment at Lehman High School will be reduced to 980-1,020 students by the 2016-2017 school year.

In addition to the new, smaller schools, Westchester Square Academy, a “screened” high school requiring a test for admission already on Lehman High Shool’s campus, should also see increased enrollment.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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