Lehman HS taken off DOE closure list

Lehman High School has been saved.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a personal visit to the school Thursday morning, announced it has been taken off the city Department of Education “phase-out” closure list.

The school near Westchester Square was set to be gradually shuttered over the next three school years and replaced with smaller schools.

A DOE spokesman has confirmed that Walcott visited the school and that it has been taken off the phase-out closure list.

A major improvement has been downsizing the school to under 3,000 students.

DOE spokesman Devon Puglia said that the agency believes it now has an effective strategy for Lehman and its campus.

“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,” he said. “We appreciate the many students and families that have shared their views with us.”

Lehman principal Rose LoBianco broke the good news to the entire high school community through the public address system, which created a “celebratory tone throughout the building,” according to a statement released by student activities coordinator 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.”

The news came on the heels 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.

All three electeds, and many students, parents, teachers and administrators expressed concerns over the plan to phase-out Lehman.

“The Assemblyman is delighted that the DOE realized the good work that has been going on at Lehman, and he congratulates the entire school community,” said Benedetto’s chief of staff Ben Randazzo.

Vacca said Thursday that Lehman will be smaller in size, but that there will be an entering ninth grade class next year and the school will remain a zoned school for kids in the surrounding communities.

“I think that this time the outcry from students in the community certainly had a significant role to play in the hearing last week,” he said. “But from the very beginning, I said it was unacceptable to close Lehman.”

The Feb. 26 hearing featured data and testimony about the school making progress after receiving an 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.

She also said that the school accepts and embraces DOE performance data.

LoBianco took over as principal about 18 months ago.

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 that topped 4,200 students at one point, caused “major issues,” he said.

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

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