THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Save University Heights High School

University Heights High School in the Bronx borough of New York City may become collateral damage to the current economic crisis. I have visited the school and spoken with students. It is too good of a program to be sacrificed. We need to find ways to organize and save it. UHHS is the kind of small school serving urban minority youth that should make Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Arne Duncan swell with pride if they actually visited inner-city schools attended by ordinary working class and minority youth. Let's hope they step up to the plate.

UHHS is located on the campus of Bronx Community College, and that is its problem. BCC has been a good home for the high school. It is a safe location and easily accessible by public transportation, which makes it very attractive to immigrant and minority families in hard pressed Bronx communities. Its best feature is that after completing their basic requirements, students at UHHS can take courses at the college. They earn a few credits, but more importantly, they learn what college is and the possibilities it offers to their lives. Many of these students will be the first members of their families to get a higher education. The school also provides day care facilities for students who are parents.

According to the New York City Department of Education website, UHHS serves 450 students in grades 9 through 12. Ninety-five percent of the students are Black or Hispanic. Approximately 85% of the student population is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, which means they are overwhelmingly from low-income families. Despite this indicator, which frequently points to problems in school, only 6 students from UHHS dropped out of school in 2007-2008.

UHHS is very highly regarded by its students, teachers, and parents and received grades of A on its last three New York City annual reviews. Students who perform in the school's lowest academic third have consistently outperformed similar students in other schools. It also has high passing percentages on New York State standards "Regents" exams, especially in English, History, and Math.

In a 2008-2009 survey, 96% of the parents were satisfied or very satisfied with the education their children were receiving at UHHS. Eighty-seven percent of the students surveyed said that their teachers encourage them to succeed and 69% reported that their teachers inspire them to learn. Teachers felt similarly connected to the school community. All of its teachers are rated as highly qualified in their subject areas and there is very little turnover.

I recently heard from Pablo Muriel, a teacher at UHHS who is a long time friend and colleague about the threat to the school. Because of the economic downturn and double-digit unemployment, enrollment at BCC and other community colleges is increasing. Record numbers of students are now enrolling in the community colleges because they cannot find jobs, they cannot afford more prestigious four-year schools, and because if you attend school you can stay on your parents health plan and postpone paying student loans.

The new community college enrollment has put a premium on space. To expand, BCC wants the high school to move off of its campus, which Pablo fears will kill it.

Pablo, a long-time resident of the Bronx neighborhood where BCC is located, arrived at University Heights High School as a substitute teacher in 2002 and was soon offered a position as a Social Studies teacher. The school, considered an alternative high school, was going through a massive transition.

When Dr. Brenda Bravo, a former teacher and deputy superintendent, was appointed principal she was able to establish close ties to BCC and worked with the staff to improve the school. In the past, to give students a sense of empowerment, Pablo has involved his classes in campaigns to secure new textbooks, better facilities, and an auditorium. They wrote letters to public officials, held a town hall meeting, and met with Bronx Borough President Adolpho Carrion, State Assemblyman Efrain Gonzalez, Councilmember Luis Diaz, and Congressman Serrano. As a result of their efforts, millions of dollars were allocated for the repair and improvement of the building, a new library and a wonderful auditorium. Now BCC wants to take this all away from them.

UHHS remains a special place for students from Bronx communities. The current principal is a graduate of UHHS and was a teacher there for over 15 years. Compared to other New York City schools that serve similar communities, it is very successful.

Students and teachers say University Heights High School are gearing up for another massive political campaign to save their school. There will be negotiations with college and Department of Education officials, meetings with politicians and community residents, town hall assemblies, letter-writing campaigns, and petitioning. They need everyone's support.

For more information contact Pablo Muriel at pabloamuriel@aol.com.