December 17, 2009
An event billed as a question and answer session about the proposed closure of Jamaica High School quickly became a pep rally for the school’s supporters last night.
Hundreds of angry students, parents, and teachers packed Jamaica’s auditorium last night to protest the Department of Education’s plan to close the school. Chants of “Save our school” and “Four more years” could be heard blocks away and department officials had to fight to explain per-pupil funding and the school’s phase-out plan over waves of boos and shouts.
One of several large high schools marked for closure, Jamaica has struggled in recent years with low graduation rates and a high number of students who have learning disabilities or are recent immigrants and don’t speak English.
In its proposal, which the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on in January, the DOE says it plans to replace Jamaica with two small high schools.
Built in 1927, the school has graduated generations of Queens residents, many of whom turned up last night to defend their alma mater. Many who spoke accused the DOE of underfunding Jamaica while “dumping” some of the most difficult to educate students on its doorstep.
Alan Coles, a retired Jamaica teacher who still coaches the girls track team, said that after the school was listed as persistently dangerous in 2007, it lost the majority of its best students.
“Students who could not get into any other school were sent here,” he said. “So what did they expect our graduation rate to be?”
Jamaica’s four-year graduation rate is 46.2 percent and has slowly been increasing over the last several years.
Dopeen Mohammed, a junior in the Gateway honors program, said during the time she’d been at Jamaica the school had lost its Advanced Placement chemistry and Spanish classes to budget cuts, along with more than a dozen teachers. Other students asked why the new small secondary school that shares the building, Queens Collegiate, has more Smart Boards and new computers than Jamaica has.
“If you have the kind of resources to open two new schools, why not put it into building up this school?” asked Michele Williams, president of Jamaica’s parent association.
“We have put a lot of resources into the school,” responded Debra Kurshan, head of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning.
“We don’t doubt there are a lot of successes at Jamaica. But we do have a large number of students who are not doing well,” said Jeanette Reed, the superintendent for District 28.