The office of Joel I. Klein, Chancellor of the New York City School system, just released a memo with the bureaucrat title "Proposals for Significant Changes in School Utilization." Despite its innocuous-sounding title, this is really the plan to kill University Heights High School. Bloomberg, Klein, and their minions have no interest in discussion, so the only question is whether their plan can be stopped.
UHHS is currently located on the campus of Bronx Community College, and that is its problem. BCC wants the space to expand and has canceled the high school's lease.
BCC was a good home for the high school for two decades. 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. The best feature of this location was that after completing their basic requirements, students at UHHS could take courses at the college. They earned a few credits, but more importantly, they learned what college is and the possibilities it offers to their lives. Many of these students are the first members of their families to get a higher education.
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. It also has high passing percentages on New York State standards "Regents" exams, especially in English, History, and Math. The school is very highly regarded by its students, teachers, and parents and received grades of A on its last three New York City annual reviews.
This is a school that should be saved and emulated as a model. Instead, it is inexplicably being killed. The Department of Education plans to move UHHS from the Bronx Community College campus to the South Bronx Educational Campus at 701 St. Anns Avenue, in one of the poorest, most unsafe communities in New York City. The campus currently houses four schools including New Explorers High School which received a grade of D in student progress and an overall grade of C on its last school report card.
My prediction is that if this plan goes through, students who would have selected UHHS will choose to go elsewhere and four years from now we will find it on the failing schools list and targeted for reorganization. But it is not the students, teachers, or administrators that will fail, it is the Bloomberg/Klein Department of Education.
The Bloomberg/Klein Department of Education is now going through the motions of abiding by the law and consulting with parents, teachers, and students. They can email written comments to HS.Proposals@schools.nyc.gov or leave a voice message at 718-935-4144. They also list Natalie Ondiak of the Office of Portfolio Planning as a contact person who will answer questions. Her phone number is 212-374-3482. I recommend flooding both phone lines and the email site with comments and questions.
An open meeting to discuss the changes will be held, not at University Heights High School, but at the South Bronx Campus on March 11, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. Speakers can sign up when they arrive, but expect the judges to sit there in silence -- there will be no question and answer period.
And just in case the audience is outraged, no official decision will be announced at the meeting. Instead, the rubber stamp Panel for Educational Policy will meet on March 22, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. at The Michael J. Petrides School 715 Ocean Terrace on Staten Island, about as far away from the Bronx as you can get and still remain in New York City.
Students, parents, teachers, and administrators from University Heights High School will continue their campaign to save their school. But public officials on the City Council and in the State Legislature must step up to the plate and tell the Bloomberg/Klein Department of Miseducation that "This is no way to kill a school!"
In the meantime, I will do my best to bring their protest message to the New York State Board of Regents.