City shows hypocrisy in its desire to close Jamaica HS

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I oppose the closing of Jamaica High School not because I am an alumna, but because I know that thanks to dedicated teachers the school is capable of creating scholars and giving students the time and attention they need. I am confident the school can overcome its recent struggles and those knowledgeable about other large high schools slated for closure could make similar arguments to those I can make for Jamaica HS.

Jamaica has a 117-year history of success and overcoming hard times. Of the 21 schools being closed citywide, nearly half are new small schools. The answer is dedicating resources to make the schools we already have more successful.

Last month, the city Department of Education claimed Jamaica lacked “academic rigor” and its students were not engaged by their lessons. But its School Progress Report contradicted that claim: The school possesses a “studious climate in classrooms” and a “vision for a successful learning community.” DOE parent surveys indicate 88 percent of parents are pleased with the education their children get at Jamaica.

The statistics appear grim, but they do not paint an accurate picture. One should question the DOE’s statistics, as the school’s much-maligned graduation rate differs from that reported by the state.

The DOE, city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and others cite a low number of students from the zoned area who applied to Jamaica as evidence students do not want to attend it, while at the same time the DOE promotes a system in which students are encouraged not to attend zoned schools.

They note that 89 students citywide placed Jamaica as their first choice on their high school application forms, but when applying to competitive and highly selective schools, those schools must be listed first to have any chance of admittance. They do not mention the students who love and defend the school and encourage friends and family to enroll.

The DOE said developing and promoting successful programs in the school is not an option or a solution, but the DOE is proud of the success it had in turning Thomas Edison HS, next door to Jamaica, into a successful and popular school by developing and promoting programs within it. Jamaica has great and successful programs: The Gateway and finance programs have nearly 100 percent graduation rates.

If the city has the financial resources to launch and fund new schools in the Jamaica building, why hasn’t it allowed Jamaica’s current students to benefit from those resources? Students in Queens Collegiate HS, the existing small school within the Jamaica building, have laptops; members of Jamaica’s PTA speak of their children having tattered textbooks.

Advocates of replacing Jamaica with small schools cite examples of schools that were phased out and replaced with successful smaller schools. They fail to mention Campus Magnet, which replaced Andrew Jackson HS in 1994 and now is home to four small schools, one of which is slated for closure and a second that received a C on its most recent school report card.

The two proposed new small schools will accept only 224 ninth-graders in 2010; Jamaica has seats for over 500. Jamaica offers self-contained special education programs. While new schools reportedly will admit special education students, will they be the students who study in the most-restrictive environments? Jamaica provides services for English language learners who comprise a substantial percentage of the student body. If the new schools have a smaller percentage of ELL students, how much of the school budget will be dedicated to them?

Students, teachers and alumni who have been working to fight for the school’s survival should be allowed to continue to dedicate their time and effort to improve the school. The city should increase funding so Jamaica can replace teachers and guidance staff who have been lost to recent budget cuts. Promote the programs the school has and consider creating formal “learning communities” under one school administration.

The current students lead my peers and me to defend Jamaica. Alumni and current students embrace and support each other. We love the school because of our time in it and the current students are so much like we were or better. The current students and those who have applied and hope to enter in 2010 are the school’s present and future.

The DOE has unjustly labeled Jamaica a failure. The school can defy this label if the DOE provides the funding and support to allow the principal and staff to continue the school’s mission. It should have that chance for the sake of the students.

Kathleen Forrestal


Updated 5:42 pm, October 10, 2011
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