‘The DOE Should Be Reorganized, Not BCHS’
After two hours in the Beach Channel auditorium on January 13, the consensus among the 50 locals who came to tell the Department of Education not to shut down the school was clear: The DOE has failed the school and it is that agency that should be closed down and reorganized, not the school.
“The department has failed our school,” said Chris Petrillo, a John Jay College student who graduated from Beach Channel High School last June. “There should be reorganization there, not here.”
“You have shown an utter contempt for Rockaway and for this school community,” said Dave Pecoraro, the school’s UFT chapter leader. “You have deemed us unworthy to continue after you took away all of our resources and put them elsewhere, in schools favored by the mayor. The mayor poisoned the well by telling parents that they would be irresponsible if they sent their children to this school.”
“The mayor took the wheels off of our school, and then complained that we failed because we could not run the race,” said another longtime teacher. “Instead of putting back the wheels, he firebombed the car.”
“We really need the DOE’s help and it has turned its back on us,” said teacher Lavern Allan Powell. “I have two kids who were just shot, two girls who are pregnant, two others who just gave birth. We have lots of truants, lots of [English Language Learners}, lots of truants. Who is going to address their problems, where are they going to school when Beach Channel is gone?”
[img_assist|nid=111163|title=|desc= Shael Polakow-Suransky, the new Deputy Chancellor, told the audience that there is good reason to close the school. |align=left|width=206|height=250|link=node]Shael Polakow-Suransky, the new Deputy Chancellor, was at the meeting and pointed out why Beach Channel High School was slated for closing.
“I understand that we have to take seriously the very deep connection that this school has to the community and how difficult this decision must be for that community,” Polakow-Suransky told the people in the audience. “This is not because the kids or their teachers have failed. This is taking place because we don’t believe that the necessary educational growth is possible in the present situation. This school is not closing. There will be a new group of educational institutions that will be better able to address the need of the community’s students.”
[img_assist|nid=111164|title=|desc= Teacher Lavern Allan Powell awaits his turn to speak as Michelle Lloyd-Bay, the District 27 superintendent, sits to his right. |align=right|width=250|height=206|link=node]In response to a question of where those students who will not be accepted to the new schools in the building will go, the deputy chancellor said, “Our job is not to make schools that will not accept the kids from their community.”
He did admit, however, that not all the Rockaway students who would normally go to BCHS will be accommodated by the new schools in the building.
Beginning in September, a new high school, designated as 27Q351 will be placed in the building. It will be a limited unscreened school, which means that anybody in the city can apply, but that Queens residents will be given priority in admissions.
That school will join the four other schools already in the building: the Channel View School for Research; the Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability; Beach Channel High School, which will phase out in three more years; and a District 75 Special Education school, 75Q256@410.
[img_assist|nid=111165|title=|desc= Simon and former student Chris Petrillo wait to speak. |align=left|width=227|height=250|link=node]The announcement that the DOE planned to close BCHS came as no shock to students, parents or staff.
They had been aware of the process to phase out and close the local comprehensive high school since December of 2009 when Department of Education spokesperson Will Havenann told The Wave, “We went to the school today to announce our proposal to phase out the school. There will be no more incoming freshman classes at the school and it will be closed in three years.”
Of course, that announcement was made prior to a July ruling overturning the entire DOE phaseout program because the DOE had not followed the procedures outlined by the legislature’s school governance act.
Then, in early November, the DOE issued a list of 47 schools that would be phased out and closed over the next few years, including Beach Channel High School.
Despite that, last month Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez told a small crowd at the school “I was not informed that there is a plan in place to close the school.”
At the time, that statement brought groans from the 100 people, mostly school staff and community activists, in the room. “I am here to listen to parents and staff and to bring back ideas about how to keep the school serving the students of Rockaway,” Mendez added.
Mendez listened to more than a dozen speakers urge him to provide more programs and more resources to the school before giving up and closing it down.
That led to the January 13 meeting.
The mayor’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) will meet at the Brooklyn Technical High School on February 13 to vote on the closing of BCHS and several other schools.