MTA chief recalls days at Beach Channel HS

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MTA Chairman Jay Walder returned to his alma mater, Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park, this week and in his commencement address touted the need for public service, particularly in times of economic duress.

“When I was growing up here, New York City was in the midst of a fiscal crisis and city services had been cut to the bone, libraries were closed, beaches were barely being maintained,” said Walder, a 1976 Beach Channel HS graduate who grew up on Beach 57th Street in the Rockaways. “Violent crime had become a part of our day-to-day lives. It was that environment that shaped my commitment to public service.”

In his keynote address to Beach Channel High’s 188 graduates Monday, Walder did not directly address the string of cuts the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has implemented in Queens and throughout the city. He did, however, tell students he loves his job, despite the fact the MTA is trying to plug an $800 million budget hole.

“I’m often asked would I have taken this job if I knew then what I know now,” Walder said. “I never hesitate. I answer with an emphatic, resounding yes. In our city, public transportation is the foundation upon which our city works.”

The MTA this week cut nine bus routes and two subway lines in Queens.

Walder, like each of the graduation’s speakers, also did not broach the fact that the city Department of Education may shutter Beach Channel HS, phasing out its current student population and bringing charter schools to the current building. If an appellate court rules in favor of the DOE, Beach Channel HS may be one of three schools in Queens to be phased out beginning in the fall. Jamaica HS and Campus Magnet in Cambria Heights face the same fate.

“They shouldn’t close this school,” said Tierra Munion, a Beach Channel High graduate from Far Rockaway. “There are wonderful teachers here who care about us passing. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The DOE has said Beach Channel High was slated for closure because of a low graduation rate. It had a graduation rate of 46 percent two years ago and 46.9 percent last year — percentages school and community officials have said were far lower than the 56 percent who graduated in 2007. That number quickly declined after the city shuttered Far Rockaway HS, which brought many more students to Beach Channel High who needed special services, community leaders have said.

School leaders and students who spoke at the graduation, held in the school’s auditorium on one of the season’s hottest days, urged students to seek out their passions as they start a new chapter in their lives.

Principal David Morris, like Walder, told students they were entering a difficult economy in which the City University of New York has a wait list for the first time and where “there are very few jobs out there.” Still, he said they can “make the most of it.”

“With hard work and dedication, you will succeed,” Morris said.

Daniel Malcaus, the school’s valedictorian and a Far Rockaway resident, also said he was sure his peers would succeed in life.

“I’m confident everyone in this senior class will do great things,” he said.

Roz German, the chapter leader of the school’s Children First Network, a city initiative meant to integrate operational and instructional support for schools, told students to focus on life’s simpler things.

“Remember these uncomplicated words,” German said. “Walk in the rain, smell the flowers, say hello to a stranger, go on field trips, tell stories, trust the universe and, most importantly, always remember Beach Channel HS.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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