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Lessons from School Closings

January 26, 2011

by Jaritza Geigel

My name is Jaritza Geigel and I am a youth leader at Make the Road New York and a graduate of the Bushwick School for Social Justice.

Our community experienced the phase out of Bushwick High School Campus almost seven years ago and know directly the impact closing its doors had on students, teachers and community members. While the new small schools graduate a much higher percent of students, they serve less than half of the number of students that were on the original rolls. Nearby high schools felt the painful impact of receiving overflow in schools already struggling with the issue of overcrowding. Our community was making demands from the beginning about the removal of so many seats and were promised by the DOE they would be replaced. Seven years later we have not seen an increase in seats in Bushwick. District 32 has an average of 1,330 students enrolled in each grade level, but only 713 available ninth-grade seats.

Additionally, we found out with little advance warning that Bushwick High School was on the list slated for closure, allowing little time to inform the community. There were no community meetings with the DOE. There was never a clear plan presented for the phase out. Students and parents came to the school in the fall looking for their seats in their zone school. The DOE did not inform the community of the changes. Most of the teachers and counselors left, and the few that remained encouraged students to leave before the school even finished closing. There was not enough support for remaining students to succeed and graduate as planned.

We know firsthand that it is critical for the DOE to provide adequate notice to students, parents and families about proposed closings. The DOE needs to share plans with the school and community stakeholders as well. During the phase out process, often students in these schools are not being supported. They need the resources to make sure that they graduate on time. There also needs to be intensive supports for graduating eighth graders to understand their options for high schools in the community, so they know well before the fall. Lastly, there needs to be opportunities for parents, students and community organizations to have input in selecting the schools that will be placed in their communities to replace phasing out schools. These are just some of the lessons we learned from going through the process of Bushwick Campus being phased out.

And now our community finds itself facing this issue again. Bushwick Community High School, a transfer school in the neighborhood, was just recently added to the PLA (Persistently Lowest Achieving) list and is threatened with closure. This school, known around Bushwick as a “second home” for students who have struggled in traditional school settings, should not be on this list. The criteria for this list needs to be changed and transfer schools need to be evaluated differently. How can a transfer school, that consists of mostly over-aged, under-credited students, be held to the same standards as other high schools? We are simply asking that high-stakes measures, like those for PLA criteria, be applied to us in a way that accurately reflects the circumstances and function of this school as a transfer school within the NYC DOE and that gives us a real chance to reach the necessary performance targets and support students in their academic transformation.

Make the Road New York community members in Bushwick have directly experienced these challenges and struggles around school closings. We are committed to fighting for excellent, high performing schools in our neighborhood and ensuring that the resources, support services and funding are in place to address these issues and to create the space and opportunity for the necessary community involvement in this process.

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