DOE Announces Two Rockaway Schools Slated to be Shutdown

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This past Monday, December 18, just a week before Christmas, parents of students at two schools in Rockaway received a surprising announcement. Out of the 12 Queens schools in the NYC Department of Education’s (DOE) Renewal School program, PS 42 R. Vernam in Arverne and MS 53 Brian Piccolo in Far Rockaway are slated for closure at the end of the school year.

According to a lengthy report released by the DOE, “The proposals for closures will be posted next month in January, and will be voted on at the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting on February 28, 2018. The decision to close the Rockaway schools, two of the nine schools citywide slated for closure, was based on the schools’ test scores, enrollment, graduation rates, college readiness and more. Students at those sites will be ‘better served at the stronger school options available to them,’ the agency said.

The Renewal Schools program created longer school days at some struggling institutions, while providing $150 million in resources to address crucial issues. Mayor de Blasio said at the start of the program in 2014, that those that did not show improvements would be closed. Some, including Public Advocate Letitia James, have been critical of the program, saying it has not accomplished its intended purpose.

According to the DOE report, for the 2016-2017 school year, PS 42 had an enrollment of 719 students, of which students in grades three to five had a performance proficiency of 17 percent in English Language Arts (ELA), compared to the city-wide average of 40 percent; and a performance proficiency of 14 percent in math, compared to the city-wide average of 42 percent. In grades six to eight, in ELA, students had a performance proficiency of 14 percent compared to the citywide average of 41 percent; and a six percent performance proficiency in math, compared to the citywide average of 33 percent.

For the same school year, MS 53 had an enrollment of 314 students, of which students in grades six to eight had a performance proficiency of 16 percent in ELA, compared to the city-wide average of 41 percent; and a performance proficiency of four percent in math, compared to the citywide average of 33 percent.

With these dismal scores, and the reality that Rockaway is already a desert for parents looking for alternative school options, what are they going to do?

On Wednesday, December 20, Mary Barton, superintendent of District 27 in which both PS 42 and MS 53 fall under, released a report, stating that there will be two community meetings scheduled in January for parents and the community at large to attend. The first meeting will be held on January 10, 6:30 p.m. at PS 42, and the second on January 11, 6:30 p.m. at MS 53.

However, Kevin Morgan, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president at PS 42, is not waiting that long. He and other parent advocates have organized a free chartered bus trip to Albany, (provided by the Alliance for Quality Education), for concerned parents and community members to protest the school closures on January 9. For further information, contact Morgan at 347-410-3061.

“As the PTA president, I am going to fight this! Just recently, we were rated as proficient from the District 27 superintendent. This DOE announcement really blindsided us. I don’t understand how our school is being closed down when we were told we met the standards. A few years ago, all the parents got together and wrote a letter to the DOE recommending new school leadership. All we got is a new principal. Starting with a new school administration would be good, but shutting the school down and changing the name that it has held for decades is absolutely not acceptable, and we are going to fight it. My son is graduating from the eighth grade at PS 42 this year, and he is doing great. So that just shows, that it’s not just because I have a child attending the school, but that I am sincerely fighting for all the children who need to be here in their community for their education,” Morgan said.

Community advocate, Jeffrey Williams-Maisonet, who attended PS 42 as a child, said, “With these closures, people need to be reactive to the DOE. I attended PS 42, and while I was there, the school went throughout three different principals. There was a lot of bullying, drugs and gang violence. At that age, kids like myself were peer-pressured to join gangs. That school has a dark history and something needs to be done. Quite frankly, I’m glad PS 42 is closing. I’m not applauding what has happened, but the school desperately needs a new staff and a new principal working proactively towards helping students excel academically, and protect them from bullying. As for MS 53, I used to volunteer in their after-school program with the YMCA. The students are willing, but the neighborhood is challenging on so many levels. I believe it’s the community and parents who need to get an attitude adjustment to really help these students soar.”

Lisa George, board president and education specialist of the Heart of Rockaway Civic Association, agrees. “We need to organize and strategize as a community on how we’re going to stop these school closures. Government can provide the money and the infrastructure, but when are we going to come together? Also, there are a lot of educators residing in the community. Can they volunteer at a community tutoring program such as the one at St. John’s Baptist Church in Arverne? Also, parents need to step up. They need to find every resource out there to help their children be the best they can be. Find a tutoring program for your child, join the schools’ PTA. There are many resources out there, but as a parent, you have to do the ground work.”

 

 

Stay tuned, as The Rockaway Times will provide updates in future editions.

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