Councilman Lew Fidler took to the microphone at a mandatory hearing on the impending closure of Sheepshead Bay High School last week, slamming the Bloomberg Administration’s proposal as an example of failed education policy and arguing instead that the school should become a testing ground for a new high school improvement model.
Several hundred Sheepshead Bay High School teachers, parents and students attended the March 28 hearing, with more than 50 people testifying before a panel that included Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg that the school is a success despite the odds. The hearing itself is a legally required formality before implementing any major restructuring, in this case a plan to enroll the school in a “turnaround” model that would rename the school and replace 50 percent or more of its teachers.
Students and administrators of Sheepshead Bay High School (3000 Avenue X) decried the closure plan and the Department of Education’s assertion that it’s failing, saying the school has made major strides in its success rate despite having a higher rate of non-traditional students.
They emphasized the school’s strengths: dedicated teachers, diverse students who come from all corners of the globe, and celebrated mock trial and track and field teams. The city should improve the school, not close it, they argued.
“The teachers go above and beyond. They’re tutoring us during their lunches and breaks,” testified Yuri Ostrozhynskyy, a senior who helped create a mock-trial video opposing the turnaround plan. “The teachers push us because they have a personal relationship with us, they know what to expect of us.”
“Our parent coordinator accepts children, families almost every day who are not in any school system in this country, and we gladly show the families around this wonderful school,” said Thaddeus Russell, a School Leadership Team member and the father of three graduates and a current student.
Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg acknowledged that the school has had “some success” graduating English Language Learners in four years, and can count its slowly climbing graduation rate among its strengths.
Fidler added to those arguments – which focused on the school’s strength in extracurricular activities and its ability to serve a unique student population of ESL children and kids from broken homes – noting that the successes have been made in the face of continuous Department of Education interference.
“In 2008 you started picking on Sheepshead Bay High School,” Fidler said, referring to the DOE’s earlier attempts to shutter the school. “In spite of that fact, these very same teachers that you want to get rid of half of have improved the graduation rate even though you are telling them that you are coming for their jobs.”
The school’s overall grade dropped from a C to a D in the most recent progress reports. However, the school has demonstrated steady improvements over the past three school years in its first-year student achievements, graduation rates, regent diploma rates and attendance.
These achievements were made in the face of repeated threats of closure, as well as a public campaign to portray the school as failing. Administrators at the school testified that anxiety over the school’s future and its performance has kept strong-performing Junior High School students from applying, and gave the school a potentially weaker student body to work from.
Fidler suggested an alternative to closure – turn the school into a laboratory for high school improvement based on a model used at P.S. 114.
At the Canarsie-based elementary school, Councilman Fidler, Assemblyman Alan Maisel, other elected officials and community leaders rallied with parents and school administrators when city ordered the school shut down. Surprisingly, DOE officials reversed course, negotiating a compromise with school administrators and local elected. The facility would co-locate a small charter school, while the electeds directed more funds for after school programs, and administrators worked with parents and teachers to ensure deeper involvment.
Fidler told Sheepshead Bites that the turnaround has been a huge success. In terms of enrollment, P.S. 114 is now over-performing while the charter school can’t fill its seats.
“It’s an indication that parents want their kids in 114,” he said. “They liked what they saw.”