Avella wants Van Buren HS principal replaced

State Sen. Tony Avella (l.) and Martin Van Buren High School PTA President Helen Young stand outside the school last week to call on the city Department of Education to replace Principal Marilyn Shevell. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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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 or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:14 am, February 16, 2012
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Reader feedback

angela from queens village says:
I am graduate of 74 and know Mr Lindell and he's correct about "neighborhood" kids going to the school. I was in there in 2003 and saw many kids roaming the halls, security doing nothing and I was being interviewed like an outsider....I thought it was in trouble then..I don't know the current principal but our principal in the 70's demonstrated leadership and encouragement as did the teachers and guidance counselors...the majority of my graduating class went on to have very good careers
Feb. 16, 2012, 3:21 pm
Evelyn from Bayside says:
I graduated in 1998 and the school was fine. I took honors and AP classes and the teachers were caring and considerate. There were hardly any fights the 4 years I was there. Definitely no gun shootings or knife fights. I'm so sad that since I've graduated, the school has completely changed. We had a great COSA and I think that made a big difference.
March 20, 2012, 9:43 am
A from Queens says:
I dropped out of this school. It was terrible! :( Really bad memories. Terrible school staff and even worse were the students. Couldn't get to class on time at all. I was picked on and no one would listen to me. Teachers didn't care as long as they looked like they were doing something and getting a paycheck at the end of the month. I wish I had attended this school when it was actually mandatory to really learn, and not just a place to hang out in.... Ugh, disgusting!!!
I'm almost crying I didn't graduate. The principal was heartless - the school staff were. I felt like a criminal there. I guess this place turned into jail.
This school really needs a change. Right now!
May 12, 2012, 5:18 pm
mary from queens says:
im a student in van buren and its the worse school over there are no fun clubs no after school programs there's nothing interesting in that school whatsoever
Aug. 25, 2012, 10:08 am

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