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Martin, Richmond Hill saved

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Southeast Queens leaders and school officials said they were relieved when word came down that August Martin and Richmond Hill high schools would be spared from the chopping block, but they are cautious over the exact planning to reshape the academic institutions.

The two schools were put on the state Department of Education’s persistently lowest achieving school list earlier this year, but the city DOE has decided to try a new technique to improve the schools. Under the restart model, the principal and school community will work with a nonprofit educational partner and hammer out a plan to improve the curriculum.

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), who represents the district covering both schools, said he was happy to learn they escaped the DOE’s phase-out initiative, which will go into effect at Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools this fall and ultimately result in their closing.

The councilman, however, said careful planning must be made between the administrators of August Martin and Richmond Hill, the parents and the third parties.

“The nonprofit needs to understand the needs of the community,” he said.

News of the August Martin’s rescue brought cheers among the student body. Principal Anthony Cromer said he was excited when he got the official word from the DOE Friday morning and told students during the opening of the school’s new multimedia center.

Cromer, who was heavily criticized in a state report on the school’s poor performance, urged the students to use the school’s new lease on life to work harder and strive for the best.

“The expectation on you has been raised 10-fold because people are going to expect you to do great things,” he said.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) echoed Wills’ sentiment.

Although Richmond Hill HS is just outside the border of his district, Lancman has been deeply involved with the school’s staff because many of his constituents go to the school and the school has no Assembly representative due to Nettie Mayersohn’s recent retirement.

The assemblyman said the biggest challenge Principal Frances DeSanctis and the nonprofits face in turning the school around is creating a school community that reflects the neighborhood’s diversity and addresses their educational needs.

“There is an opportunity to turn Richmond Hill High into a great learning environment,” he said. “Hopefully, the partners will bring some expertise so that it can move forward.”

The DOE has issued a request for proposals for nonprofit groups to take part in the program and the selection process is still ongoing, a DOE spokesman said. Both schools will have to work hard to turn around their academics based on recent evaluation reports.

Schools are put on the state’s persistently lowest achieving school list for various reasons, including low student graduation rates, a large number of safety issues or inadequate academic standards.

The state said August Martin had many disadvantages for students, including no access to calculators for math classes, no teaching of the scientific method and poor student behavior was accepted by staff members.

It was awarded a D grade during this year’s school report card and had a four-year graduation rate of 62.5 percent. Richmond Hill High was awarded an F grade during this year’s city DOE school report card and had a four-year graduation rate of 57 percent.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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