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City drops ax on August Martin by voting to close

Timothy James, a spokesman for state Sen. Shirley Huntley, speaks at the city Panel for Educational Policy meeting. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Before the city Panel for Educational Policy decided to close August Martin HS and six others in Queens, a representative from state Sen. Shirley Huntley’s (D-Jamaica) office blasted the panel for the way the city Department of Education removed the principal of Martin last month.

Timothy James, Huntley’s educational constituent specialist, accused the department of putting Anthony Cromer through a “perp walk,” replacing him with a new principal weeks before the panel voted.

“Why did you interrupt the education at that school?” James asked at the Brooklyn meeting last week where the votes were cast to shutter 24 schools across the city. “That was horrible. Who said he had to go right then, right there?”

In addition to Martin, the PEP also voted to close Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Flushing HS, Richmond Hill HS, John Adams HS in Ozone Park, William Cullen Bryant HS in Astoria and Long Island City HS.

After the vote, communities at other schools on the chopping block expressed similar concerns that the process of replacing school staff would be disruptive to students.

“At a time when teachers should be focusing on helping students study for Regents exams, we now have to work on résumés and portfolios,” said Sally S., a teacher at John Adams HS in Ozone Park. “This decision has put a lot of lives into chaos.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) lamented the loss of John Adams and Richmond Hill high schools, saying both have long histories in their respective neighborhoods. He also expressed hope the DOE would accept the community’s input when it comes to restructuring these schools.

“My paramount concern is to provide our students with a sound education upon which they can build their dreams of higher education and occupations,” Addabbo said. “Now that the DOE panel has made its decision, I think we should reflect that all people involved in this decision should remain open to ways to listen to and to use community input and feedback.”

The senator also said in the coming months that he will work on getting answers for faculty and students concerned about what turnaround will do to their school.

Seth Welins, chairman of education and youth services with Community Board 9 — covering Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Kew Gardens and Ozone Park — said the DOE should have focused on ways to improve the schools, including lowering class sizes at what he believes is an overcrowded Richmond Hill HS.

“When a school is having difficulty, the first thing that should be addressed is class size,” said Welins. “That didn’t happen here and now we are left with teachers and students preoccupied with other things besides academics.”

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said the decision to close the schools ultimately disrupts any headway the schools have made toward educating young minds.

“The closure of Richmond Hill HS will disrupt a great deal of progress that has been made in the last three years and set thousands of young adults at a disadvantage,” she said. “Shutting down schools with experienced and effective educators is not the way to improve our education system.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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