By Jackie Mader
The 18 schools will not shut down right away, but will stop admitting new students and shrink down to nothing as each remaining class graduates.
School Chancellor Dennis Walcott reminded the crowd of parents, teachers, students, and education activists that the new schools that have opened in the past few years are outperforming the older ones and better preparing students for college and careers. “Overall, you will see most of the schools, not all, but most of the schools…that have replaced the larger schools, have outpaced the schools we have replaced,” Walcott said.
The Panel’s vote brought the total number of schools that have been closed to 135. Jamaica High School in Queens joined the list last year. The school once had over 1400 students, and now has only about 560 left. After years of low graduation rates and poor academic performance, the school stopped admitting new students and is being replaced by three smaller schools that share the building.
Jamaica High teacher James Eterno says city education officials stacked the deck against them. “You concentrate the hardest to educate kids in the schools you want to kill,” Eterno said. “When invariably those schools don’t make it, you pull out your spreadsheet and say ‘Aha! Look at the graduation rate!” And you close them.” Eterno has been teaching at Jamaica High School for 25 years. He says that as the new schools have grown, programs at Jamaica have quickly disappeared. “They promised us when they were going to phase us out, they said ‘Don’t worry, you’re still going to have your programs.’ When reality kicked in, we really didn’t.”
Eterno says that many classes now have over thirty students. Jamaica used to offer seven Advanced Placement classes. This year, there are none. The school no longer offers a music class, and Jamaica students cannot study music at the other schools in the building.
Brian Pickett, an education activist, says that disadvantage is evident at Jamaica now that new schools with more funding have moved in. “You can walk the building and you can see that in the classrooms that are designated for Jamaica High, there are chalkboards,” He said. “Then you see some of the co-located schools and you see newer technology,” he added. “I think there’s a sense of internalized failure that students at these schools have to deal with.”
Jamaica High teacher James Eterno agrees that students are feeling the failure. He says that many are giving up and dropping out. “The students and staff are demoralized,” he said.
Next fall, Jamaica High will shrink to about 400 students, according to Department of Education projections. Meanwhile, the 18 schools that were just voted on will start their own process of slowly closing up shop.