Saturday, January 9, 2010

Report on the Columbus HS hearing from a former alum

I went to Christopher Columbus H.S. in the Bronx (my alma mater) Thursday night for the joint hearing that DOE arranged about closing the school and also one of the small schools that share the building, Global Enterprise H.S., (which was started during the Bloomberg-Klein regime.)

The auditorium was packed, and everyone who spoke during the first two hours, while I was there -- the local elected officials, the Bronx Borough President's rep., the head of the community board, administrators, teachers, union reps (teachers and principals unions), students, alums -- everyone was passionate in their defense of the schools, their opposition to the closings, and their criticism of the DOE.

Heartfelt testimony included statistics refuting the DOE's charges that the schools were failing, charts showing graduation rates above the city-wide average, information about successful coping with over-crowding, high percentages of special needs students and new-arrival students who enter not speaking a word of English. The words of praise in the DOE's own recent progress reports were cited as direct contradiction of the words they now use in their closing rationales.

People spoke about how they have not received help and support from the district office or DOE central. It was pointed out that DOE claims of having consulted with the "stakeholders" about this were bogus, because when personnel at Global asked widely who had been consulted, they could find no one who had. Several people suggested that clearing space for charter schools was the likely explanation for this DOE plan. One student, choked up with tears, said that the closing would shut the door to his future.

The building looked to be in great shape, inside and out, with lots of informational and inspirational signs and college posters all over the walls. It was maybe in better shape than when I attended, and since it opened in 1938, it is now well more than twice as old as it was then.

If PEP votes to close these schools after a hearing like this, it will be a chilling example of how an irrational dictatorship rides roughshod over the near-unanimous opinions and desires of practically all aspects of the communities it supposedly serves.

If all the B.P. reps on the PEP, if they each wish to keep their schools open, make common cause for the meeting on the 26th ("Don't vote to close my schools and I won't vote to close yours") and the vote comes out with eight Bloombergs for closing, five Borough Presidents against, it will demonstrate how unfair the make-up of this group is, and ought to result in lawsuits against the closings.

--Richard Barr, parent leader

For some recent articles which deal with the school closings, see: Jamaica and Columbus High School supporters pack hearings (GothamSchools);Hundreds Protest Proposed School Closings (WNYC); Bloomberg School Closings Draw Ire (The Indypendent); Hundreds Rally To Keep Queens School Open (NY1 );Beach Channel supporters lay out their case against closure (GothamSchools);Was Beach Channel set up for failure? (Queens Chronicle ); Parents to have say on DOE plan to close Jamaica HS (

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