By Juan Soto

Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola wandered the Jamaica High School halls in the mid-1950s.

Those same halls were witnesses to the birth of the first doo-wop rhythms of The Silvertones, known later as The Cleftones.

A Pulitzer Prize poet worked at the school’s newspaper, while one student ended up as U.S. attorney general.

The list of notable alumni is long, but all the glory hidden in the classrooms and the walls of the once-brilliant Jamaica High School will soon be part of history. The institution, which opened in 1925, is shutting its doors this week.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg placed Jamaica High on his list of failing schools on the grounds that the educational facility at 167-01 Gothic Drive had had low graduation rates for more than a decade.

Since 2011, the school has been phasing out one grade per year. In the current school year, there is only the senior class left at the school. Jamaica High will celebrate its final graduation this week, almost a century after its doors were opened for the first time.

“This is such a beautiful school,” said state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who graduated from Jamaica High in 1974. His mother taught biology, chemistry and Spanish at the institution for more than 40 years.

“We had a dress code here,” recalled Weprin, as he admired the school building, designated a city landmark in 2009, on a visit to the campus this week.

The structure is now home to the Hillside Academy, Community Leadership and Queens Collegiate schools.

Jamaica High, with an enrollment of more than 4,500 students in its good days, was Weprin’s political learning ground. He was active in student government and all the other associations linked to political and social causes.

Students, alumni, community activists, elected officials and neighbors fought hard to keep the school open, but they ended up losing the battle. They held rallies and protests to no avail.

“The school brings back a lot of memories,” Weprin said. “I am a little disappointed we are not even keeping the name.”

And right there, speaking with TimesLedger Newspapers, the assemblyman came up with an idea. He said he will introduce a bill in the Assembly to change the name back from the actual Jamaica Educational Complex to Jamaica High School.

“I am going to look into this,” he added. “At least the place has to keep its name.”

Weprin will be the speaker at the last graduation. It will not take place in Jamaica High’s historic auditorium. Seniors, faculty and family members will gather at Antun’s in Queens Village.

“I will remind them that they will be part of history as the last graduating class of Jamaica High,” Weprin pointed out. “But most important, I will tell them that they be whatever they want to be.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by email at jsoto@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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