November 16, 2011
Community meetings at schools that the Department of Education is considering closing have started attracting a new constituency: students.
That’s because the meetings, which the DOE calls “early engagement conversations,” are now being held at high schools. Until this week, all of the meetings had happened at elementary and middle schools, for which the city released a shortlist of potential closures in September.
One meeting took place Monday evening at Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts, where some members of the school community are arguing that its progress report data aren’t bad enough to warrant closure. Last night, students made the case for keeping Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communications Arts open. And today, students have recruited crowds to defend Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Tiffany Munoz, a Juan Morel Campos junior who was student body president last year, said students were alarmed when they heard that the school could close and quickly invited hundreds of current and former students to a Facebook event, “Save Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (I.S. 71) From Being Closed.” Tonight, when the school’s superintendent meets with community members, 150 students who RSVPed yes plan to let her know that the school is a tight-knit community with a thriving arts and music program where teachers push students to do their very best.
They’ll be joined by parents and teachers who say they also plan to fight for the school.
“The students are very upset. A lot of them are telling me and my kids if they had to look for another high school they wouldn’t do it,” said Carol Diaz, the mother of two Juan Morel Campos high school students and the secretary of the PTA.
A rally before the engagement meeting was organized in conjunction with advocacy groups from the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has helped parents at a number of schools at risk of being closed push back against the DOE’s characterization that the schools are low-performing. Instead, the rallies argue, budget cuts have held the schools back.
Munoz said she has attended the school since she was in sixth grade and has seen supplies and after-school clubs dry up.
A high school teacher said budget cuts had slashed funding for teachers to run after-school programs or offer late-night tutoring. An evening class for new immigrants that bolstered the school’s graduation rate for English language learners — who make up nearly a third of students — was canceled last year, the teacher said.
“If we had more of the resources that we had in the past, a lot of graduation issues — I’m not going to say it would do everything — would be resolved,” said a high school teacher who asked not to be identified.
The school’s 4-year graduation rate last year was 45.6 percent. But its 6-year graduation rate was 76 percent, suggesting that the school holds on to many students rather than letting them drop out. Just under 60 percent of the members of the 6-year cohort had graduated on time in 2009.