Teachers protest possible school closures

Teachers, parents and students tookto the street to demand that the city not close any more Brooklyn high schools.

“We’re not going down without a fight,” said Jorge Mitey, a special education teacher at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School and the school’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader. “There will be other rallies, there will be writing campaigns and there will be petitions.”

On Monday, a rally was held outside of FDR at 5800 20th Avenue. The state Education Department has characterized FDR — as well as Sheepshead Bay High School at 3000 Avenue X, John Dewey High School at 50 Avenue X, and William E. Grady Vocational High School at 25 Brighton Fourth Road — as the city’s “persistently lowest achieving” schools.

As a result, the city Department of Education (DOE) can receive $500,000 in federal funding for each school if it implements any of these restructuring options – replacing the principal, replacing 50 percent of the staff, turning the school over to a charter or school-management organization, or closing the school.

The DOE says it has not made a final decision about which restructuring options it will pursue for individual schools.

According to insiders, Sheepshead Bay High School is on the list because it failed to meet graduation targets for special education and low-income students.

At FDR, the high number of English Language Learners (ELL) and English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students makes it difficult to graduate students in four years.

“We have a lot of kids from China, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These kids work hard but initially, they might have trouble passing the English exams,” explained Michael Majmin, a social studies teacher at FDR. “Even if they don’t graduate in four years, by their fifth year, some become valedictorians and some are accepted to the top [colleges].”

Majmin criticized the state Education Department for its method of determining “successful” schools.

“Using the percentage of students graduating in four years isn’t fair, especially for schools with high ELL populations,” he said.

So agreed City Councilman Vincent Gentile, who was among the protesters at Monday’s rally.

“We need to work toward improving, not punishing, schools that struggle because they don’t fit the mold,” Gentile said. “When we don’t take into account the special circumstances and hurdles local public schools face, we put the students who need us and that institution most at risk of failure. The state Education Department has got to abandon its one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating public schools and approach FDR High School with the intent of helping, not hurting, its students and the community.”

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