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Department of Ed holds first school closure hearing in Bronx

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Teachers, students and parents blasted the Department of Education at the School for Community Research and Learning on Tuesday, January 5 in the first public hearing on a proposed school phase-out anywhere in the city.

The students were devastated to hear that SCRL was in danger, teacher Jeanette Delvalle said.

“SCRL is home to me,” 17-year old student Stacy Ocasio of Soundview said.

The DOE announced plans to shutter the Soundview high school, one of seven small schools housed in the former Stevenson High School, on Thursday, December 3. Founded when the DOE chose to phase-out Stevenson, SCRL graduated fewer than half its students in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

But on January 5, 26 angry opponents of the proposed SCRL phase-out questioned the DOE’s logic. SCRL fits none of the specific DOE criteria that translate to automatic closure. It hasn’t earned D or F grades on a DOE progress report. Nor has it earned three or more straight Cs.

SCRL earned a C on its 2006-2007 report, a B on its 2007-2008 report and a low C on its 2008-2009 report. Its 2008-2009 report included Ds in “progress” and “performance.” At the public hearing, teachers admitted that they need to graduate more students but asked the DOE to help SCRL succeed rather than launch a new school.

“The DOE closed Stevenson only a couple of years ago,” Delvalle said. “It took us six years to put down roots. Rather than plant a new seed, the DOE should let our tree grow.”

SCRL students have hosted health fairs and blood drives, founded intramural sports leagues and visited colleges, Delvalle said. Teachers helped student Natalya Acosta, 17, of Parkchester, land a summer internship at Bronxnet, the public access television network. Acosta thanked the school at the public hearing. SCRL offers a pair of Advanced Placement classes.

“Every school has problems,” 17-year old student Janae Jeridore of Gun Hill Road said. “But to close SCRL because of our graduation rate is ridiculous. When your car has a broken part, you don’t throw away the car. You fix it.”

DOE Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras noted the passion expressed on January 5 but was unmoved.

“When you have a graduation rate of 43 percent, 57 percent [don’t graduate and] those students deserve the opportunity to be successful,” Taveras said.

The DOE has proposed that SCRL enroll no new ninth graders starting fall 2010. It plans to open new school, which would add one grade each year. The DOE maintains that its new, small schools outperform old schools. Of course, SCRL is a new, small school. On Tuesday, January 26, the city Panel for Educational Policy will vote on a boatload of proposed school phase-outs. Each borough president appoints one panel member and the mayor appoints eight.

On January 5, Diaz Jr.’s education director, Jesse Mojica, demanded that the DOE clarify its phase-out criteria and asked why SCRL teachers weren’t privy to DOE “conversati­ons with stakeholders” at the school. The borough president will oppose the phase-out unless he gets answers, Mojica said.

Yvette Olivo’s daughter is a special education student, a senior on schedule to graduate. Olivo praised SCRL.

“My biggest fear was that my daughter wouldn’t graduate,” she said. “But school is more than a paycheck for the teachers here.”

Parents and teachers argued that SCRL struggles in part because it enrolls many students who are poor, or who have special needs, or who barely speak English. But Bronx schools such as Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies and Bronx Engineering enroll similar students and perform well, Taveras countered.

Several SCRL alumni returned for the public hearing.

“[Because of SCRL], it’s no wonder I’m at Cornell [University] today,” said Jonathan Roman, class of 2007.

The DOE held a phase-out hearing for Christopher Columbus High School and Global Enterprise Academy, a small school on the Columbus campus, on Thursday, January 7, and will hold a hearing for Alfred E. Smith High School on Monday, January 11.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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