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Bryant, Newton HS also have reprieves

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Legislators in Astoria and Elmhurst praised the city Department of Education’s decision to put low-achieving William Cullen Bryant and Newtown high schools through a restart model instead of shuttering them or changing their faculties. The possible closure of both schools had inspired protests.

“Any dramatic structural changes would have stunted Bryant’s continuing progress,” said state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), who is an alumna of Bryant, “and I’m proud to have worked with my fellow elected officials and the Bryant community to help keep the school intact.”

Both Bryant HS, at 48-01 31st Ave. in Astoria, and Newtown HS, at 48-01 90th St. in Elmhurst, had been designated as persistently lowest achieving schools, meaning their graduation rates had been less than 60 percent for less than four years.

Schools in this category face four different options: they must be restarted, which means the school will be overseen by a nonprofit or a charter school; transformed, which means the principal would need to be replaced and the school would go through major reforms; turnaround, which would require the principal and fewer than 50 percent of the staff to be replaced; or closed altogether.

The DOE has listed on its website calls for proposals from organizations to provide support to the schools under the restart model. The website says these organizations will not directly provide services but will assist the principals, school leadership teams and staff “to improve student performance and achieve school-level accountability goals.”

Protests had been held at Newtown in November and Bryant in April.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said in a previous interview with TimesLedger Newspapers that Newtown, which had graduation rates of around 50 percent to 52 percent, has problems because it is overcrowded and has many English language learners among new immigrants.

In a statement, Peralta called the decision to restart Newtown an “important first step” but said a lot of work lies ahead.

“I look forward to working with the school community — parents, staff and students — and the Department of Education in developing Newtown High School into one of the city’s premier neighborhood high schools,” Peralta said.

Students, alumni and legislative representatives of Bryant contended the school had been steadily improving in the last four years, with its graduation rate for the 2009-10 school year at 59.6 percent, and that this was due to its principal, Aaron Perez, who has been there for two years .

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), an alumnus of Bryant, said the school can be eligible for more than $6 million in federal funds over the next three years. He said those who rallied for the school to stay open should remain engaged and continue to support the school as it goes through the restart process.

“I just think that this whole experience has taught a lot of students a valuable lesson in fighting for what’s important,” Van Bramer said, “and that we can win.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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