December 16, 2011
Carolyn Blackette wasn’t thrilled when she first found out her daughter would be attending Legacy High School for Integrated Studies because of its reputation. Blackette’s daughter had been assigned to the school after not getting into any of her high school choices, so Blackette marched down to the Department of Education to protest. A DOE employee convinced her that it was a good school and moving in the right direction under new leadership. Still skeptical, Blackette went to orientation — and fell in love with Legacy.
Within the first four months of school, she has received a personal call from the principal to make sure her daughter was adjusting comfortably, had frequent correspondences with teachers about her daughter’s performance, and witnessed her daughter welcomed into a warm school environment.
“I’ve been through the system before,” Blackette said, having put several other children through public schools. “I’ve never seen them take such interest in a child.”
With such an overwhelmingly positive experience, Blackette was shocked – as were other Legacy parents and students – to hear the school was placed on the chopping block last week when the DOE proposed its phaseout.
On Wednesday night, Thomas Fox, a DOE official that works with a number of schools including Legacy, facilitated a public hearing on Legacy’s proposed phaseout. As soon as parents and students caught wind of the event, they mobilized to rally – painting black and red “Save Legacy” tees, posting fliers around the school, making phone calls to bring in the troops. Approximately 100 staff members, students, and parents filled the cafeteria to hear what Fox would say and to push back.
Fox explained that data had been accumulated over the last ten years and that between low rates of graduation, credit accumulation, and enrollment in four-year colleges, Legacy has displayed “long-standing problems.” Last year, Legacy received an “F” on the Department of Education’s progress report.
Parents and students insisted that the data didn’t represent the current climate at Legacy. They questioned why data that reflects previous leadership is being used to penalize the present leadership. Joan Mosely took the post of principal last year, and students and parents gushed about the positive changes they have seen in the school since.
A handout organized by school supporters highlighted some of these changes, including strengthened ties with college preparatory and drop-out prevention programs, increased regents rates, and – in a push to help students who struggled to attain a diploma in the past – a twenty point increase in six-year graduation rates.
Four-year graduation rates, however, did drop.
“I don’t want any of you to take this personally because it’s not a reflection on you, it’s not a reflection on Ms. Mosely,” Fox responded.
But parents and students said they do take it personally.
“The students of Legacy who wake up every morning, who come here every day should have a say,” one young lady said. “Honestly, honestly – parents and students tell me if I’m wrong – but the turn around here has been dramatic.”
Blackette told me that the school has started using a “buddy system” to match up students to commute to and from school together. A senior spoke on the Pix 11 morning news about having a “graduation coach” who is helping her fulfill her vision.
Rosa Alejandro, the parent of a sophomore who transferred to Legacy this year, told me that her daughter has found a home in this school. “Transferring here helped her become more comfortable with who she is,” Alejandro said “She’s finally found a place where she felt she belonged and that’s why I fight.”
Alejandro said she is disheartened that the DOE won’t give the principal time to continue moving the school in the right direction. She said the closure dampens student morale and makes them feel “not worthy enough” and “not important enough.”
Fox assured families that the students currently enrolled would be able to continue attending Legacy until graduation, and he said that they would receive support as the school was phased out. This too, was of little comfort to families.
“They’re going to phase out the teachers, the budget’s going to keep getting shorter and shorter, and so they’re going to sit there like bumps on a log for the next three years and not really have a high school experience,” Blackette told me. She said instead of phasing in a new school as Legacy closes, the DOE should let the present students and administration benefit from a fresh start: “Why don’t we do that now? Just change the name of the school and start all over with all new data.”