Closing of Jamaica High School
After his third term was secured, Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education proposed closing 20 schools, including Jamaica High School. Meetings and a public hearing about closing JHS have been held between local elected officials, community and school leaders, and members of the DOE. At these, every community and school leader opposed the closing, and instead wanted the school given the ability and opportunity to improve. Every non-DOE person also wanted local students given a zoned preference for any new school. Despite this opposition, the DOE is determined to close the school and not provide a zoning preference.
In support of closing, DOE officials claim the school is underperforming and place emphasis on the less than fifty percent of students graduating in four years. In opposition to closing, community and school leaders have presented facts that show the DOE has failed to properly support efforts made to improve school performance. They also showed that in many im-portant categories, JHS has outperformed comparable high schools. In particular, students who enter JHS not performing at grade level graduate at rates substantially higher than other High Schools. Hearing both sides, a reasonable person would have doubts about closing. Unfortunately, the procedures for closing schools are not reasonable and the Mayor and Chancellor can ignore opposing views. This pervades the public sessions as people believe closure is a done deal merely awaiting the stamp of ap-proval by the Panel for Education Policy.
Adding to this negative sense are the proposed replacement schools, which are primarily led by teachers with little administrative experience. None of these schools emphasize Math, Science, and Computer programs which is incomprehensible given their importance in today’s economy. None offer students the opportunities currently available at Jamaica High School and none should replace JHS.
Regarding the zoning preference for local students, all students have a right to attend a quality high school, however, it is equally important to provide the high school with the best chance to become a quality school. A zoned preference would best enable any new school to accomplish its goals. Local students at a local school bring with them social attachments and civic obligations that benefit their performance and the health of the school and community. In fact, three of the four leaders of the proposed schools indicated that schools would be enriched and would work best if attended by local students. Perhaps these benefits stem from students not having to travel long distances to a school in a neighborhood they have no ties with. Finally, since the surrounding community has suffered from an alleged underperforming high school, they should be the first to benefit from an alleged better school.
Chancellor Klein should withdraw the proposal, or the members of the Panel on Education Policy should reject the proposal, or a zoned preference should be implemented at the new schools.