Over the last 2 1/2 years, the fate of Jamaica High School has been shrouded in controversy and uncertainty as the city and state flip-flopped on their evaluations of the school’s performanceand its importance to the southeast Queens community.
It began shortly before the start of the 2007 school year, when the state Department of Education placed the 107-year-old campus on its persistently dangerous schools list for disciplinary problems taking place inside the school over two consecutive years. That decision prompted Jamaica High to fire its principal, Jay Dickler, and hire Walter Acham to that position.
Some of the problems at the school came to light in August of that year when the family of student Mariya Fatima sued the DOE after she claimed administrators had failed to call 911 when the girl suffered a stroke inside the building four months earlier.
Rumors were also going around midway through that school year that Jamaica HS was being targeted for closure due to its bad standing. The DOE announced the space would be shared by the Queens Collegiate High School, a smaller campus that operated separately from Jamaica, and several teachers associated feared the worst.
“A lot of kids are reading into it. There’s a lot of unknown,” a source from the school told TimesLedger Newspapers in May 2008.
Despite the bad press and speculation, Acham worked hard to improve the school from the inside out. In an interview with the TimesLedger in August 2008, the principal said his first priority was to make sure his students acted maturely while they were inside the school.
“We drummed it into the kids this is what you are expected to do. We said we will make this a positive learning environment as long as you abide by the rules, and the kids bought in,” he said.
His strategies worked and the state removed Jamaica from the persistently dangerous schools list in the summer of 2008.
The school took its image turnaround one step further with its drive to make the 107-year-old campus a city landmark. The 13.5-acre building was built in the Georgian Revival architecture style and had a number of famous alumni, including “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola.
When the city Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the high school’s landmark status last year, students, parents and community leaders celebrated the decision as a positive piece of the school’s legacy.
That history, however, will be ending sooner than expected. After Jamaica HS earned a D rating on this fall’s annual school report card, the DOE proposed it be phased out and replaced with two smaller schools starting in the fall.
Acham and proponents of the school came out in several protests, including a packed meeting with DOE officials Jan. 7, but those cries fell on deaf ears as the city approved the proposal last week.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2010 Community News Group
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