Greenpoint’s Automotive High to teach bike repair to better reflect community

Greenpoint’s Automotive High to teach bike repair to better reflect community
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

The principal of Greenpoint’s Automotive High School wants to reinvent the Bedford Avenue school to better reflect its neighborhood — by teaching students how to fix bicycles.

The Department of Education will close the ailing school at the end of June and reopen it with new teachers, a different mission, a fresh name, a redrafted curriculum, and a student-run bicycle repair shop next to its auto repair shop.

“We’ve been criticized for being in the community, not of the community,” said Automotive principal Caterina Lafergola-Stanczuk. “The work of education is to bring everyone together, and to learn from one another.”

Lafergola-Stanczuk said the bike repair shop would help students better understand simple mechanics while providing a much-needed service to cyclists in North Brooklyn — the borough’s bicycle capital.

“Many automotive shop classes begin with an understanding of how bicycles work and many people become mechanics based on their experience with bicycles” she said.

Lafergola-Stanczuk, who will remain in charge of the school as it undergoes its rebirth, believes the new bike workshop, along with expanded science and engineering programs, will attract more teenagers from Greenpoint and Williamsburg families, ideally doubling enrollment to 1,200 students by 2016.

“We’re strictly a career and technical school now and it’s a strong program but we need to diversify,” she said. “We want to meet the needs of people in our community by offering families a college preparatory education across the park so they don’t have to send their kids to other schools.”

The Greenpoint school attracts some North Brooklyn students, but many commute from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Bushwick, and Downtown for vocational classes in car maintenance and repair, computers, and mechanics — prepping themselves for two or four-year colleges or work in the automotive industry.

Neighborhood enrollment isn’t Automotive’s only problem: the Bedford Avenue school issued 394 suspensions to students last year — the most in Brooklyn — and only 53.6 percent of its students graduated within four years compared to the 2010 citywide average of 66 percent.

The city has eyed closing the school for years, and in March, the Department of Education named the school as one of 24 it would shutter and reopen as part of its “turnaround” program, which calls for firing Automotive’s teachers and staff on June 30.

The next day, the school will get a new name and a hiring committee comprised of Lafergola-Stanczuk, teaching union representatives, and city officials will rehire some faculty and bring on new employees to rebuild the school.

Longtime teachers are nervous about the changes.

“I think the big mistake they’re making is changing the staff,” said special education teacher Marilyn Matzura. “They should train the staff in what they want to see done instead of just doing away with people. I hope it works out for the kids first of all but I really don’t wanna see people hurt.”

And football coach Haseeb Khawaja said he hoped to ensure some stability for the school’s burgeoning football team — a tough task when he doesn’t know if he’ll have a job this fall.

“It’s frustrating, we have to apply for our jobs again,” he said. “We try to prepare our students for changes and I would love to come back, but it’s not in my control.”

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.