East End Matters...
Last week the Department of Education held the required hearing to give residents a chance to voice their opinions about the proposed closing of Beach Channel High School. As adults hollered to Department of Education representatives, “Liars,” “This is our school” and “Keep Beach Channel open,” one voice rose above the rest. During a power point presentation, Christopher Petrillo, an 18-year-old BCHS senior, in a calm and knowledgeable way, went issue by issue making an argument to keep the school open.
“Why can’t you fix us?” asked Petrillo. “We were a really good school until the cuts started happening.”
From there Petrillo, better than any adult, showed how the school was set up to fail. He explained how cuts began at BCHS two years ago. He spoke about how the Channel View School for Research (which is housed in BCHS) and the Scholar’s Preparatory Academy took away students from the high school. Petrillo listed top programs such as oceanography, cooking and dance that are now history. He told DOE representatives how 32 caring and dedicated teachers were fired within one year.
He also asked some important questions.
“Why can’t the money for a new school be used to fix us?” asked Petrillo. “Will the new school be better? Why did the DOE cut services and funding for programs? Will the new school offer the same activities and services and the same student clubs and College Now classes?”
He continued by saying, “Why did you take away the structure from us? Without structure a school falls apart.”
In short, as BCHS lost students to the other two schools it also lost funding. Lost funding led to lost programs and teachers, and that led to the impression that the school can no longer serve its students. In addition, as Far Rockaway High School closes it doors the students who could not get into the schools on the newly named Far Rockaway Educational Campus became students at the already underfunded BCHS. All this has put us in the current situation where we are about to lose the last comprehensive high school in Rockaway.
Mr. Chancellor, what are the answers to all these questions? It’s time that School Chancellor Joel Klein, the man who was absent when Petrillo showed up for an appointment with him at Tweed Courthouse last month, answered the many questions being put forward. Actually, it is too bad Klein didn’t keep his appointment because he would have met one of the fine students the school is turning out. The meeting and the power point presentation, originally meant for Klein, would have turned on its head the idea that the high school “is no longer equipped to help students move ahead,” as Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey said at a meeting last month.
Another question begs to be answered. Is this a fait accompli? Rumors are that State Senator Malcolm Smith’s Peninsula Preparatory Academy (PPA) has already been promised that it will occupy the BCHS building. Is that why we have not heard from Smith about the closing? Senator, your constituents here in Rockaway would love to hear from you on this issue.
Another question is what will happen to the sports teams. We are currently looking at the end of high school sports in Rockaway. First it was the FRHS Seahorses, now the BCHS Dolphins. Also gone would the BCHS Marching Band, which welcomed the Clintons to New York the day that President Clinton left office and has led many parades through the streets of Rockaway.
So, why is a school that has been rated as “Proficient” by the DOE itself being shut? So many questions with no answers.
One thing is for sure. The closing of the last public high school on the peninsula affects all students living here. The idea to throw money at a new school without attempting to fix the current one is obscene. Use the funds for a new school to fix the current problems at BCHS. Start to return the necessary programs and teachers to the school. If the DOE can invest in a new, yet unknown school, it can invest in something that was shown to work until the city decided to cut funding and support for it. If there is enough time to phase in a new school – new administration, teachers – for September 2010, starting to make change in the old school can be done within that timeframe as well. If the DOE wants to reorganize, let them. But keep BCHS open.
As a graduate of Far Rockaway High School, I am ashamed that I didn’t at least voice my objection to its closing. Not this time. And other FRHS alumni should join me. Petrillo said it was school pride that made him come to the DOE hearing. That pride must be strong considering not many teenagers would want to spend their 18th birthday at a Department of Education meeting. Now it should be civic and, and for those associated with BCHS, also school pride that should lead everyone to work to keep the school open.