Van Buren gets $4 million

Officials speak out against the city considering co-locating a charter school at Martin Van Buren High School, which is slated to receive nearly $4 million in grant money.
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The state Education Department has set aside more than $4 million in federal money for a Queens Village high school on the mend.

Martin Van Buren High School was selected as one of 22 schools throughout the city to receive a total of $74.2 million in School Improvement Grants over the next three years, state Education Commissioner John King Jr. said. The city has been working to get the school back on track and even installed a new principal there after it received poor grades on progress reports over the last three years.

“Many English language learners, students with disabilities and low-income students are in schools that need to change,” King said. “SIG grants can help give those students the opportunity to attend schools that are changing what’s happening in the classroom.”

Principal Sam Sochet was brought in to help turn Martin Van Buren around earlier this year and has since been actively seeking new community partnerships to establish different programs at the Hillside Avenue school. The state designated $4,341,030 that will go directly to Van Buren to be used at Sochet’s discretion.

“Too many students are struggling in low-performing schools, denied a realistic chance of success,” said Merryl H. Tisch, state Board of Regents chancellor. “SIG awards are targeted to help our most at-risk students so they will be prepared to graduate college and be career-ready. These grants are focused on improving chronically under-performing schools and raising achievement.”

In its ongoing attempt to revive Van Buren, the city Education Department also proposed co-locating a charter school inside the same building and cut 500 existing seats as early as next year. The decision was met with criticism from elected officials and civic leaders who said the school and its new principal needed time to recover without anymore distractions or interventions.

The grants came as part of a $126 million package going to 34 low-performing schools throughout the state and fund the implementation of different whole-school change models, the state said. Martin Van Buren was identified under the transformation model, which requires a new principal be installed and teachers following the state’s Annual Professional Performance Review plans.

The city Education Department submitted its applications to the state in June, a spokesman said, with support from the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council. Last week, the state announced it would give 30 city schools a total of $74,235,390 through 22 different grants.

“Our strategy has always been to take action rather than sit idly by — and today’s awards validate our work. Over the past decade, we’ve built a system of great schools and made historic progress,” said city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “With these grants, that extraordinary progress continues. The additional dollars will support students at schools that are phasing out, provide resources to bolster interventions in schools that are struggling and help new schools deliver great outcomes.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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