City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has an open invitation to assess the trailers slated to serve as classrooms for Richmond Hill High School freshmen next fall.
Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the high school Parent-Teacher Association, said he has called Fariña several times since she was appointed to lead the city Department of Education late last month, but has not heard back yet.
Richmond Hill parents hope to convince the new administration to reverse the DOE’s plans to open a new high school in Richmond Hill’s annex and relocate freshman classes currently taught at the church into trailers on the main campus, Mahadeo said.
But the PTA president said many of the aides and staffers who advised former Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott report to Fariña, so they want to make their case directly to her.
“Right now there is no mechanism for the chancellor to get a true picture of the changes the BOE has planned,” Mahadeo said. “She needs to be in dialogue and make sure our voices are heard and are incorporated.”
The DOE did not respond to a request for comment on Fariña’s behalf.
The city Panel for Educational Policy voted in favor of creating dozens of new charter schools and co-locating many of the new institutions inside the buildings of other schools before Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office. Mayor Bill de Blasio, then a candidate for the executive office, said he would review all proposals approved by the PEP.
De Blasio’s office did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, formerly Queens’ representative to the PEP, said he thought it was possible that the new administration would alter the plans.
“From a legality standpoint, I don’t know how that would work. If the panel has to vote to change it or if the mayor and the chancellor can just carry it out,” he said. “If it’s wrong and the new powers that be see it that way, I imagine there’s a very good chance of it reversing itself.”
For years, Mahadeo said staff and students at Richmond Hill contended with packed classrooms. Charles DiBenedetto, an English teacher and the school’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, said Richmond Hill was one of the first campuses to receive trailers. A dozen years later, he said the four mobile units have grown to 22.
The city School Construction Authority classified the high school as operating at 171 percent of its target capacity in its 2012-13 Enrollment, Capacity and Utilization report. The DOE then opened up an annex in the former St. Benedict Joseph Labre Catholic School, at 94-25 117th St., this fall, where Mahadeo said close to 500 freshmen attend class.
But this November the PEP decided Richmond Hill’s status as a persistently lowest achieving school merited a new approach and sought to decrease the high school’s enrollment by about 25 percent over four years and open a new district high school in the annex. This would allow Richmond Hill staff to focus more on every individual student while giving families a new educational option, the DOE argued in its educational impact statement on the plan.
Parents and teachers disagreed. DiBenedetto said the school was concerned the move would flood the main campus, at 89-30 114th St., with students and dismantle a forensics program that has proved popular. It may also force the international academy the school has established in 20 trailers for those learning English to move.
“We’ve been a PLA [persistently lowest achieving school] for some time and we’re trying to take necessary steps to change the image of our school. When you have 2,000 kids in a hallway, you’re talking about a whole new set of problems,” DiBenedetto said, noting that Richmond Hill has gone through three principals in the last six years. “It sends the kids the wrong message, that we don’t care about them.”
The UFT leader and Mahadeo noted that trailers have presented health concerns, especially after black mold was found in some of the older trailers last year. It has since been cleaned up.
“Kids will be eating lunch at 9 o’clock [in the morning] and some will be eating lunch at 3 p.m.,” said Mahadeo, who has two children at Richmond Hill. “This is poor planning from the Board of Education. They are experimenting and they continue to experiment with the minority community.”
DiBenedetto said some trailers are a few years beyond their 10-year lifespan and that teachers have been shuffling classes from one mobile unit to another due to heating problems this winter.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2014 Community News Group
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