There are three types of schools in New York City: Bloomberg schools, Gates schools, and orphans. The Bloomberg schools are the specialized small academies and charters that the Bloomberg administration set up to attract and hold the middle class. Student populations are often predominately White and Asian, although higher performing Black and Hispanic students from more stable home environments are generally welcomed. Gates schools are the foundation-supported schools that get extra resources from their benefactors. The Bloomberg and Gates schools get all the cookies.
The orphan schools are everybody else. Students and teachers in these schools sink or swim on their own. On November 8, 2011, Meryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents denounced the Bloomberg administration's policy of closing troubled schools and replacing them with equally unsatisfactory poorly performing new ones. An angry Tisch charged that Bloomberg "closed a lot of the large schools and they've warehoused thousands of kids. When I say warehouse, I mean warehouse." She added, "These kids don't have a shot."
Schools are either orphan schools because they are large schools such as John Adams and Richmond Hill in Queens or Lehman in the Bronx that the Bloomberg administration wants to phaze out as part of its small school initiative or small schools that predate the Bloomberg and Gates reforms so no one gets political credit for them. In the past I have written about University Heights High School in the Bronx, which was relocated from the Bronx Community College campus to a building in the South Bronx when a Gates school was moved out of the space into a new facility. The students and families, who had opted for the school because of its relationship to the college were furious, but no one in the Department of Education or the Bloomberg Administration was interested in hearing from them -- they were just orphans.
Now another orphan school is under attack because of Bloomberg and Department of Education neglect -- Law, Government and Campus Magnet High School in Cambria Heights, Queens. I have worked with this school for almost 20 years, placing student teachers there as part of the Hofstra University teacher education program and field testing the state Great Irish Famine curriculum and the New York and Slavery curriculum in its classrooms. Now after two consecutive D grades on the school report card, its will be either reorganized or closed unless parents, students, teachers, local politicians, and community residents can launch a campaign pressuring the DOE to back off and actually support the school. It will be a difficult struggle because the Bloomberg administration is suspected of desiring the site to use for a new mini-middle school.
I am not suggesting that Law, Government is an idyllic school. But on the other hand, the problems there are not new and New York City has had ample opportunity to address them. It is the city and the Bloomberg administration that has failed the students and community, not the school or the teachers. Clara Hemphill, author of New York City's Best Public High Schools: A Parents' Guide, visited the campus in 2003 and noted continuing safety issues. She was struck by the inhospitable and prison like conditions, especially the long lines of students forced to pass through passing metal detectors each morning and made late for classes. She reported that curricular innovations the city had promised when it created the school have been abandoned.
The Department of Education has now issued a "Report to the Community on the Performance of the Law, Government and Community Service High School (29Q494)." It is an online call to parents and community residents to participate in deciding the future of the school, although the Bloomberg administration does not have a good record when it comes to listening to the public.
The Department of Education claims, that "despite the best efforts of the community and the DOE to support the Law, Government and Community Service High School, the school continues to struggle to meet basic requirements for student success." The DOE support, which I believe is largely fictional, is supposed to have included "supporting school leadership, providing resources to increase the rigor of student work, offering supports to strengthen classroom instruction, ensuring the school is organized to focus on student achievement, working to improve the learning environment and culture of the school, and fostering community relationships and partnerships." "Unfortunately," the DOE reports, "our best efforts have not turned around the school."
I would like to see a detailed accounting of all the support provided by the DOE and to learn what its best efforts entail. The school has had three principals in the last four years. The last two were brand new principals. I do not understand how this represents the "best" the DOE can do.
The DOE claims it is offering parents and community residents a series of options. They include reorganizing the school and shutting it down.
I encourage parents, students, staff, and members of the Law, Government and Community Service community as well as people and organizations that work with the school to respond online and to meet with elected officials and DOE committees. It is time to hold Bloomberg and the DOE for failing our children and orphaning our schools.
As Meryl Tisch recently made clear, if it is let up to the Bloomberg administration, "these kids don't have a shot."