April 3, 2012
After months of relative quiet, students and staff of Newtown High School are joining the chorus of opposition to the city’s “turnaround” plans — with a heartfelt video produced by four engineering students.
To a soundtrack of melancholy piano music, the video pans over the stone façade of the campus in leafy Elmhurst, Queens, and features interviews with staff members and students.
Principal John Ficalora, the century-old school’s longstanding principal, even makes an appearance to answer questions about the turnaround plan. Ficalora would be removed under federal turnaround regulations, and the school would get a new name and have half of its teachers replaced.
“I think that would be a really bad thing to happen to Newtown,” he said. “Our students are doing really well at Newtown, all of our data is going up. And Newtown is really a family. This is a really special place.”
Newtown has over 2,500 students, many of them immigrants or the children of recent immigrants, and a four-year graduation rate of 62.4 percent — about the citywide average and on the way up. It was designated a “persistently dangerous” school in 2005 but was removed from the list after safety data improved.
At the close of the seven-minute-long video, students and teachers repeat, “Save Newtown,” in multiple languages. In the closing scene, hundreds of students are gathered on the athletic field, shouting the phrase in unison.
Newtown is one of eight Queens high schools proposed for turnaround. The Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the turnaround plans April 26.