State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) stood with discouraged parents and community members outside Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village last week, calling on the city Department of Education to remove the school’s principal.
The school’s overall grade on the city’s progress report has fallen from 58 (B) in 2008 to 44.5 (D) in 2011, and critics said accountability lies squarely at the feet of Principal Marilyn Shevell.
“I’ve been talking to parents, teachers and other principals,” Avella said standing outside the school, at 230-17 Hillside Ave., last Thursday. “The reason the grades are going down is because there’s no school spirit.”
The school received an “F” on its most recent progress report in the School Environment category, which is based on student attendance and a survey where parents, teachers and students rate academic expectations, safety and respect, communication and engagement.
Helen Young, president of the school’s PTA, said that during Shevell’s 10-year tenure she had cut many Advanced Placement classes, after-school programs and peer mediation groups and severely limited access to SAT preparation courses — all of which she said has led to plummeting morale.
“It’s time for a change in leadership,” she said. “Ms. Shevell must be removed immediately.”
A spokesman for the DOE said the department did not have a comment on the call for a new principal at this time.
Avella said he had discussed his concerns about Shevell with city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the United Federation of Teachers, all to no avail.
PTA treasurer Beverley Fernandez held a sign reading, “Morale has plummeted. Poor morale filters down to students and greatly affects school performance.”
“Things are not getting better, they’re just getting worse,” she said. “Nothing is being done academically.”
Rose McNeil-Sullivan said that despite the fact her 12th-grade daughter was scheduled to attend classes for only four hours a day, she was recently told she would have to attend night school in order to make up for missing credits.
“The guidance counselor told me everything was up to date,” she said.
Kirby Lindell, vice president of the board of the Bell Park-Manor Terrace Garden apartments across the street, said students often smoke marijuana near his home, adding he believed this to be a sign that Shevell lacks control over her students.
He said one of the problems is that the school is no longer full of “neighborhood kids,” and Avella said Van Buren’s relatively smaller student body — as compared to Francis Lewis or Benjamin Cardozo high schools — is proof that parents do not want to send their children there.
One passerby, who asked not to be identified, stopped to ask what the crowd was protesting, and said Van Buren was a troubled school back in 1997, when he graduated from Cardozo.
“I did everything I could to go to Cardozo,” he said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@
©2012 Community News Group
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