Pol bashes Van Buren plan

United Federation of Teachers representative Washington Sanchez (c.) stands with City Councilman Mark Weprin (l.) and state Sen. Tony Avella (r.) to urge the city Education Department to leave Martin Van Buren High School alone so it can continue working on improving its progress report standing.
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The city Department of Education is inching along with a proposal to co-locate a new school at Martin Van Buren High School next year despite the opposition coming from elected officials and community leaders.

Officials last gathered at the school in July to rally against the proposal, which would co-locate a new career and technical education early college and career high school within the same Queens Village school. The issue came to a head again this week after state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) renewed his push against any potential co-location.

“One of the worst things that could happen to a school like Martin Van Buren is a co-location,” said Avella, one of the elected leaders in new Principal Sam Sochet’s corner. “The new leadership I helped install at the school has finally begun to turn things around. Now a co-location is threatening to divert the necessary resources that Martin Van Buren needs to continue to thrive.”

The DOE said the plan came on the heels of a 40 percent drop in applications at Van Buren since 2010, according to a spokesman. The co-location consideration was created to offer parents with more options and allow students to obtain a high school diploma and an associate degree as an intern outside the classroom, the DOE said.

“Across the city, we’ve transformed the landscape with our new school options — and we’ve been nationally recognized by President Obama for our visionary offerings,” said DOE spokesman Devon Puglia. “We’re delivering an incredible new early college and career technical education school for this community, one of only a handful from around the city. This will be a special new option that will deliver great outcomes for children, and we’re confident it will be in very high demand.”

Avella called on the DOE to nix the co-location proposal and give the school more time to thrive on its own. He and other officials said the school was just gaining momentum under the guidance of Sochet, who was working on restoring Van Buren’s below-average progress report grades.

Earlier this year, the principal stood with Avella and other northeast Queens leaders to introduce a new partnership he helped facilitate with North Shore-LIJ to bring a pre-med program to Van Buren students.

“There is no reason that instead of installing a new school, these programs cannot be incorporated into the Martin Van Buren curriculum,” Avella said. “Principal Sochet should be given every opportunity to restore the school to its former eminence.”

Martin Van Buren High School recently celebrated more than $4 million in federal School Improvement grant money after being selected as one of 22 schools citywide. The state set aside a total of $74.2 million to be doled out to the schools over the next three years, $4,341,030 of which will go directly to Van Buren to be used at the school’s discretion.

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

Updated 12:51 am, September 20, 2013
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