by Norman Scott
The recently announced closing of nine public schools, including Beach Channel, the only comprehensive high school in Rockaway, has raised questions as to whether school closings are part of an attempt to engineer space in public schools for pet charter school projects by financial and political supporters of Mayor Bloomberg.
Charges have been made that school closings are based on artificially manipulated educational factors and statistics in order to satisfy a politically motivated agenda to create a semi-privatized system using public funding. The focus has been on the privately managed charter schools which hunger for space in public school buildings. Are these school closings just real estate grabs for people connected to the Bloomberg administration? The decision to close Beach Channel is being examined by some in the context of the charter school interests of current and former Rockaway politicians like State Senate leader Malcolm Smith and former Congressman Floyd Flake. Smith is a founder and on the Board of Peninsula Prep Charter School, which is viewed as a potential occupant of a vacated Beach Channel building and Flake has been a long-time backer of charter schools.
Was Beach Channel "set up" for closure by the NYDOE? When the Gotham Schools blog announced the closing of Beach Channel High School this week it made this reference:
Beach Channel received attention in 2007 after students and teachers complained about a destabilizing influx of students who had not chosen to attend the school but were placed there. Those students included many who would have been zoned for Far Rockaway High School, a large school nearby that has since begun to phase out.
Beach Channel received this attention in Samuel Freedman's education column in the NY Times on Nov. 7, 2007 which was titled: A High School Struggles With Surprise Students. [The column is now defunct, with some charging its demise was due to his exposure of many of the flaws in the Bloomberg/Klein education agenda.]
Freedman described Beach Channel as a
"school [that] has been destabilized...by an unannounced influx of students from outside its attendance boundaries. Some arrived with histories of disciplinary problems or even criminal activity, school records show, while others had been in full-day special education programs. Others brought volatile gang allegiances from their home neighborhoods, according to school personnel. And in no case did Beach Channel receive advance warning...
[A] detailed memo written by two...assistant principals paints a vivid picture of an improving school rattled by the violent or criminal behavior of several dozen students that the memo says were foisted on Beach Channel...
....the department [of education] does not dispute that in the first month and a half of the  academic year at Beach Channel, as the memo describes, there was a spike in disruptive incidents: drug possession, weapons possession, fighting, insubordination to school safety officers and an attack on a dean. The memo lays the responsibility for many of these episodes on the newly enrolled students. The net result, the memo said, was a 'crisis situation.'"
The Beach Channel closing was announced amidst a flurry of other large high schools closings. The fazing out of Jamaica HS and Maxwell Vocational School in East NY in Brooklyn has raised a stir. Maxwell has suffered some of the same issues Beach Channel has faced since nearby schools like Jefferson and Lane were closed and other area schools like South Shore and Canarsie are being fazed out. Small public and charter schools that add one grade at a time cannot absorb the influx of students from fazed out schools, in particular the students in special ed and ELL's (English Language Learners). As we went to deadline, a rally at Maxwell was to take place on the afternoon of Dec. 9, with teachers from schools around the city who are seeing a future of mass school closings and teachers being forced into becoming Absentee Teacher Reserves (ATRs) after their schools closed expected to attend.
Schools on the chopping block, theoretically, will have their day in court. Proposed school closures must now be given public hearings and approved by the Panel for Educational Policy [PEP], the current school board, which has functioned as a rubber stamp, since the new school governance law was passed during the summer. The PEP, however, has never rejected a DOE policy proposal. The January 26, 2010 PEP meeting at which many closings will be discussed will be held in Staten Island which has had no schools closed in this round of closings. Activists from some of the schools to be closed are trying to organize as many people to attend as they can.
The DOE's Educational Impact Statement announcing Beach Channel's closing stated that "Approximately 1,345 high school seats will be eliminated by the phase-out of Beach Channel. However, the majority of those seats will be recovered with the phase-in of new schools throughout the City." Note it does not say they will be recovered in Rockaway. Certainly not at Channel View serving grades 6-12, also occupying space at Beach Channel. Channel View's enrollment for 2010-11 is capped at 600 and will not have to suffer the same problems Beach Channel went through when Far Rockaway was closed.
With Rockaway being so isolated geographically, the closing of the only large comprehensive high school on the peninsula will have a major impact on students: those remaining at the soon to be closed school, those not accepted into the new small schools and the schools they do end up at. Schools targeted for closing suffer enormous deterioration as morale suffers from a sense of moving deck chairs on a death ship. The nearest large high school is John Adams in Ozone Park, which may end up being overloaded and destabilized by the Beach Channel influx. That a local school like Channel View is capped and John Adams will be forced to accept the Rockaway kids is one of the fault lines in the Bloomberg/Klein program.
One of the consequences of the national educational reform agenda that Bloomberg and Klein have signed onto has been the death of many locally zoned neighborhood high schools, which are seen as obstacles to their plans. The closing of Beach Channel is one more domino to fall in a process that will leave few large high schools left standing.
Leonie Haimson a parent activist who heads Class Size Matters commented on the Beach Channel Educational Impact Statement, which can be downloaded at http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/BB6C514A-6B19-4FAA-B808-C407D693A972/73431/27Q410_BeachChannel_EIS1207091.pdf, commented:
"This is the worst EIS I have ever seen. These people clearly [at Tweed] don’t have any idea on how to run a school system; or maybe they just don’t care. Approximately 1,345 high school seats will be eliminated by the phase-out of Beach Channel. However, the majority of those seats will be recovered with the phase-in of new schools throughout the City……[where are these new seats? They do not say. The vast majority of HS are already hugely overcrowded.]
All current grades 9-12 students at Beach Channel will have the opportunity to graduate from the school, assuming they continue to earn credits on schedule. Current Beach Channel students enrolled in grade 9 for the first time will have the opportunity to participate in the citywide high schools admissions process so that they can begin in a different school for grade 10 in September 2010 (pending satisfactory completion of promotion criteria and grade 10 seat availability). Current Beach Channel grade 10 students and students who are repeating grade 9 are encouraged to meet with their guidance counselors to explore their options for the 2010-2011 school year.
Now according to the DOE many 9th graders aren’t accumulating enough credits; this is one of the reasons they have decided to close the school. What happens to them? God knows. Surely the discharge rate will go sky high at this school. The DOE is hoping no one will notice.
The city’s bullet-pointed reasoning behind the closure, taken from an e-mail sent to reporters by DOE spokesman William Havemann, is below:
Phase-out of Beach Channel High School (27Q410)
The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Beach Channel High School, a high school in Queens that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
The graduation rate at Beach Channel has consistently remained below 50%:
In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 46.1%.
In 2008-09, the graduation rate was 46.9%.
Credit accumulation rates are also low:
In 2007-08, only 52.1% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits.
In 2008-09, that figure fell to 50.8%
Demand for the school is low and declining:
In 2008-09 1,522 students enrolled in the school.
In 2009-10 this number fell to 1,345.
Beach Channel received a C on the 2006-07 Progress Report, a C on the 2007-08 Progress Report, and a D on the 2008-09 Progress Report, including an F in the Progress and Environment sub-sections and a D in the Performance sub-section.
Parents, teachers, and students expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the school on the 2009 Learning Environment Survey:
Only 59% of students believe that their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 56% of students feel safe at school.
Only 56% of teachers believe that order and discipline are maintained at the school.
Only 68% of parents believe their child is safe at school.