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Students Mark School Closings With Memorial Service Outside DOE Headquarters

June 22, 2011

One hundred high school students from the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), New York City’s largest student-led group, gathered on the steps of the Department of Education headquarters today to hold a memorial service for the four high schools being closed at the end of this school year and the more than 30 others that have been closed by the Bloomberg administration so far.

The students held a funeral precession through City Hall Park up to the steps of the Tweed courthouse. There they conducted an entire service complete with coffins, flowers and eulogies as they mourned the schools’ untimely passing, and the administration’s failed policy of unnecessarily shutting down struggling schools instead of helping their students achieve success.

“We mourn not only the closing schools, but the death of public participation in education under Bloomberg,” said Anzhela Mordyga, 18, who “officiated” the event.  “UYC has done extensive research and come up with a set of proposals that we believe could turn our schools around: offering interesting and high-level classes, creating schools that are safe and respectful, supporting students through the college process, giving students decision-making roles at our schools, and providing central support for struggling schools. But did the DOE ask us what we thought, or listen to us?  No.”

“This funeral service represents the damages and pain when schools are closed, ” said Joseph Duarte, a freshman at Samuel Gompers High School, a school eligible for up to $2 million/year in federal School Improvement Grants, had the DOE chosen to apply for it.  “Why would Bloomberg not give my school a chance and turn his back on extra resources from the federal government?  It makes me worry my school is being set up to fail, and then to close.”

“The DOE doesn’t give the schools what we need.  We want to go to college, but our schools don’t have enough guidance counselors, college counselors, or hands-on classes.  Instead it’s test prep, and that doesn’t prepare us to be successful in college.  When our schools have more safety agents than guidance counselors, what message does that send?  It’s no wonder the schools struggle,” added Jorel Moore, 18.

Last week, the state released sobering college readiness statistics pointing toward the complete inadequacy of the administration’s central “reform”—closing schools that underperformed instead of giving them resources to turn around.  According to the State Education Department, a mere 21 percent of City students were prepared to succeed in college last year.  Disgracefully, just 13 percent of Black students and 15 percent of Latino students were prepared, compared to 51 percent of White students.  At more than half of City schools (184 schools), fewer than 10 percent of the students were college-ready.

This year, the Department of Education moved to close 14 more high schools.  But its controversial process for eliminating the schools has been widely criticized by students, parents, elected officials and education analysts.  The phase-out selection process seems all the more flawed, students said today, when you consider the better-than-average performance statistics at some of their schools from the year just prior to their death sentence:

  • 5 of the high schools slated for closure actually had a higher percentage point increase in overall 4-year graduation rates compared to the city average (Norman Thomas HS saw an 11%-point increase, Paul Robeson experienced a 9%-point increase, School for Community Research & Learning posted a 7%-point increase, Christopher Columbus saw a  6%-point increase, and Beach Channel HS experienced a 3%-point increase)
  • 5 of the high schools slated for closure posted a greater percentage point increase in 4-year Regents graduation rates than the city average (The city posted a 5%-point increase, while Global Enterprise HS and Paul Robeson more than doubled that increase at 17%-points and 13%-points respectively; Norman Thomas saw a 9%-point increase, School for Community Research & Learning experienced an 8%-point increase, and Christopher Columbus HS posted a 6%-point increase)
  • The city’s average Advanced Regents graduation rate remained unchanged from 2009 to 2010, but 5 schools slated for closure posted growth over that time period (John F. Kennedy HS and Global Enterprise HS both posted increases of 3%-points, Norman Thomas HS and Paul Robeson HS both posted increases of 2%-points, and Beach Channel HS saw a 1%-point increase)

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