City puts Gibran Academy out of its — and parents’ — misery

Standing firm
Matthew Weinstein

A controversial Arabic-language middle school that is failing to draw students will be transformed into a high school next year — a decision that critics say destroys the purpose of a school.

The Department of Education voted on Monday to reconfigure the Khalil Gibran International Academy, currently on Navy Street in Fort Greene, and move it to another school building on Schermerhorn Street in Boerum Hill.

The decision comes months after the Education Department revealed to the outside world what insiders at the school have long known: enrollment is dwindling and student performance has been poor.

Khalil Gibran, which has been relocated three times and has seen turmoil in the front office, will now accept grades nine to 12, a move that will bring about a complete failure of the school because it will be impossible to fulfill its mission, advocates say.

“The Education Department removed its dedicated leader and educators, removed it from the community where it was born, and ultimately stripped it of its original purpose,” said Zead Ramadan, president of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Ramadan said that the middle-school level curriculum was essential to helping students become bilingual.

But enrollment records show that many parents rejected Khalil Gibran as a serious choice.

The city reported in April that Khalil Gibran had the lowest number of sixth-grade applications in its school district last year, and only 18 percent of students who applied ranked the school within their top three choices.

Only 35 sixth-graders enrolled this year, compared to 60 students in 2007.

At a Panel for Educational Policy hearing on Monday night, neither supporters nor opponents of Khalil Gibran’s relocation showed up in great numbers.

But a representative from New Visions for Public Schools — the nonprofit that helped to create Khalil Gibran — testified in favor of the move.

“New Visions supports the decision,” said Jaime Greenberg, a vice president with the organization. “We are looking forward to seeing the high school grow and accomplish its goals.”

An Education Department spokesman said that a new location and curriculum, which includes the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, “will put Khalil Gibran on a path to improvement.”

Khalil Gibran academy — named after a renowned Lebanese Christian poet — was conceived as a middle school. But its English and Arabic curriculum was a lightning rod from the very beginning.

Founder Debbie Almontaser was vilified by right-wing bloggers for running a “madrasa” and a “jihad school.” At the height of the controversy, she defended a T-shirt that said “Infitada NYC,” making matters worse.

The city forced Almontaser out before the school opened in September, 2007. A federal panel later ruled that the city had violated her free speeh rights, but she never returned to the school.