2007-12-07 / Front Page

FRHS Going… Going… Gone!

By Howard Schwach

More than 110 years after it began in a wing of PS 42 in Arverne, Far Rockaway High School is slated for extinction over the next two years. The school's present site will morph into a multi-school complex to be called the Far Rockaway Educational Campus, school officials say.

The first faculty of Far Rockaway High School, circa 1897, sits in front of the school. The first faculty of Far Rockaway High School, circa 1897, sits in front of the school. "The school hasn't been serving student needs for years," Melanie Meyers, a spokesperson for the Department of Education told The Wave on Wednesday. "We are phasing out the school because drastic changes are needed in order for the school to serve students well."

Meyers said that the renamed educational complex would include several schools, including the two that already share the Bay 25 Street building with FRHS.

They are the Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School, which enrolls 347 students in grades 9 to 12, and the Knowledge And Power Preparatory Academy VI, which enrolls 159 students in grades 6 and 7. FRHS currently enrolls 865 students in grades 9 through 12. Each of the schools has its own principal, administrative staff and teachers.

Students at the school in its early years show pride in FRHS. Students at the school in its early years show pride in FRHS. A new, small school, probably a middle school, will open in September 2008, officials said. It will be joined in September of 2009 by a new high school unit.

The phase out of FRHS will begin in September, when no new freshman students will be enrolled. It will take three years, officials say, for the building, and the name, to be completely phased out, because students who began at the school last September have the right to remain there through graduation. The last graduating class from FRHS will leave in June of 2011.

The reaction to the word that the high school would be closing was varied.

One alumnus told The Wave that the school had been stagnant for years and that something drastic had to happen.

"All the school has graduated for years are felons," the alumnus, who asked not to be identified, said.

When told of the closings, however, Steve Berman, one-time Seahorse quarterback and a star pitcher on the baseball team in the 1950s, said that it was sad that a school with such a rich history was coming to an end.

"There is so much history there, Nobel Laureates, city championships, tens of thousands of alumni," Berman said. "You'd think that they could do something to keep the name alive."

A present staff member, who asked not to be identified, argued that the Department of Education had not done enough to help the school stay alive.

"There is a good core group of young teachers in the building who have been trying to work with the kids," the staffer said. "From day one, however, all the support has gone to the other schools in the building. We were neglected, both physically and educationally. I think that this was the plan from day one. If so, they should have been more honest with us. The DOE supports its pet projects and the rest of us are left out in the cold and then discarded."

"What's going to happen to the atrisk kids who go here," he asked. "What about the English language learners and the special ed kids who can't go to the small schools? What will happen with them?"

City Councilman James Sanders, FRHS class of 1975, said that his alma mater is "near and dear" to him, but that he would not "let his sentiment stand in the way if the DOE proves to him that the school must be closed."

Sanders said on Thursday that he was calling for an emergency meeting at the school with Department of Education officials to explain why it must be closed and why the community had no input into the process. He was still awaiting confirmation on meeting specifics at press time, he said.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum criticized the Department of Education for not consulting the impacted communities before making the cut. She argues that the DOE should have held public hearings in Rockaway before actually making the announcement that the school would be phased out.

"These closings have a devastating and destabilizing effect on the community," she said. "The DOE shouldn't make these decisions without input from parents and the larger community."

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, pointing out that the school received a D on its recent school progress report, said, "We can't just sit here and let a school that does not do what it's supposed to do to continue on its merry way."

Meyers said that all of the schools in the building would contribute to the present sports program and that the campus would field teams in several sports, as they do now.

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