Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Wave's Howard Schwach on Beach Channel High School Closing: What Isn't The DOE Telling Us?

Howie gave me permission to publish these 2 pieces he wrote on Beach Channel HS due to its immediacy (WAVE articles on the web are embargoed for 2 weeks). First is his commentary followed by his report on the informational meeting held at Beach Channel on Dec. 15. There were stories out yesterday that local Republican recently elected Erich Ulrich is outraged at not being notified by the Tweed death squads that a major high school was being closed in his district. Sources are talking about putting pressure on the Queens PEP member Dmytro Fedkowskyj but he is just a tool of horrendous Queens borough president Helen Marshall. One day we can only hope thousands of students from Beach Channel and Jamaica HS show up at her door.

Here are links to my reports on the meeting with video attached. (I have more video which got sidetracked by my working on the PEP meeting vids.)

Tweed's Shameful Performance at Beach Channel High...

Note the video of the senior at Beach Channel named Chris confronting Michelle Lloyd-Bey, the DOE flunky assigned to put a public face on the death squad. Rumor has it that Chris and Joel Klein somehow made contact and Chris supposedly has a meeting with Klein lined up where Chris will argue the case to save his school. And Chris is a senior who will not be affected by the closing.

Beach Channel Meeting Video #2
In this video Schwach and I confront Lloyd-Bey, who denies she played any role in the influx of kids from Far Rockaway HS but in fact played a major role in the closing of Far Rock which was the exact cause of the influx of kids to Beach Channel. Have these people no shame? Guess not.

The Rockaway Beat

Beach Channel High School Closing: What Isn't The DOE Telling Us?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Beach Channel Drive High School Beach Channel Drive High School So, the Department of Education has announced the phase-out and closing of Beach Channel High School, something that I have been predicting for months.

The DOE went a long way in destroy ing Beach Channel High School by placing two competing programs in Rockaway, one that drew all of the high level students and the other that took the rest of those who could read and write.

If you do not believe that the Scholars' Academy, with its own high school, right across Beach Channel Drive from BCHS drew some of the top students that might have attended BCHS and that the high school unit of the Channel View School for Research drew the rest of the motivated students, just talk to some parents.

What BCHS was left with were all the students who could not get into those two schools.

I spoke with Deputy Chancellor John White last week, shortly after the announcement was made, and he told me that there will be a new school in the BCHS building next year to share the facility with the Channel View School for Research.

That school, he says, will be designated as 27Q324, housing 432 students in grades 9 to 12.

He also said that the school would not have an "admission screen," meaning that it will take any student who wants to attend.

That begs the question: If the students are going to be the same, what sense does it make to close the school in the first place?

If the Far Rockaway High School closing is any example of the way it will play out, then many of the students who would have been slated for Beach Channel High School will wind up instead at mainland schools such as John Adams. There is no place else to go because, for the first time in more than 120 years, there will not be a comprehensive high school on the peninsula.

White was right when he said that the change will be good for the security of the neighborhood and for the community in general.

The questions that need to be asked are, will it be good for Rockaway's students, those who can't earn their way in to the new schools; and, will it be good for the mainland schools where the Rockaway kids finally wind up?

First of all, I believe that White was being disingenuous in his answer to my question about whether or not the new school would be for all Rockaway students.

Perhaps I'm being too tough on him. Perhaps he is being lied to by his bosses just as we are.

In any case, I believe that the new school at BCHS will turn out to be a charter school hosted by State Senator Malcolm Smith, and will quickly become the high school equivalent of his Peninsula Preparatory Academy that now runs in some trailers in Arverne By The Sea.

Call me skeptical, but I see it coming. It's almost as if the DOE set out to destabilize the school so that Smith could eventually have it as his own.

After the announcement of the phase-out of Far Rockaway High School in 2007, many of the thugs who could not find places in the new, small schools at the Far Rockaway Edu ca - tional Campus were sent in stead to Beach Channel High School, completely destabilizing that school.

We've written about this previously.

From The Wave edition of November 30, 2007.

The opening months at Beach Channel High School were marred this year by a spate of disruptive incidents, including drug possession, weapons possession, fighting, insubordination to school security agents and staff, and even an attack on the school's dean. Most of these incidents were perpetrated by students who were transferred to the Rockaway Park school from Far Rockaway High School, officials and school staff say.

In all, sources say, more than 50 students who are zoned to attend Far Rockaway High School because they live nearby showed up at Beach Channel High School in September with transfers in hand.

A Beach Channel High School staff member, who asked not to be identified because he had no permission to speak with the press, said that many of the transfers were problem students.

"Some of them had criminal records, some had been suspended for fighting and for theft," the source said. "Others were gang members in their home neighborhoods and were at war with the gang members at Beach Channel [High School] even before they got here."

The source told The Wave that two administrators at the school outlined the problems caused by the newcomers in a memo that was sent to Department of Education officials.

While this newspaper was denied access to the memo by DOE officials, a source at the school said that the memo detailed the problems caused by the transfers, including the 50 who came from Far Rockaway High School. In addition, 16 other transfers came to BCHS from alternative programs, including some who had been incarcerated. Eleven came from full-day special education programs, including the hospital day school program.

"[The transferred students] caused lots of mayhem in the building for the first few months," the source said. "From the beginning of September

until mid-October, more than 25 of those students were involved in disciplinary actions, some of them very severe. They were a real problem."

Last month, the DOE placed BCHS on its list of "Impact Schools," those that require special attention and more school security resources.

That designation came after an incident where a Far Rockaway High School student got into the building and joined transfers from that school in beating another student in the cafeteria. And, while the DOE admits that there were many problematic transfers to Beach Channel High School, a spokesperson said that the school was not being singled out in any way.

"Beach Channel has not been singled out as a dumping ground for troubled students," deputy press secretary Andrew Jacob told New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman. "I don't see how anyone can make the argument that one school is being favored or disfavored over any other."

He said that many of the Far Rockaway students were sent to Beach Channel simply because that school had open seats and is close to Far Rockaway.

"There is nothing out of the ordinary about the process of getting their transfers," he added. Any large high school in the city is going to be dealing with students from a wide variety of backgrounds."

Will this progression of closing schools and reopening them for a small percentage of the original student body, sending the "unwanted" elsewhere and proclaiming victory continue with the Beach Channel closing?

Will the "other school" at BCHS turn out to be a charter run by a politicallyconnected local such as Mal Smith or Floyd Flake, as we have perdicted?

Only time will tell.

Lots Of Angry Questions; Few Answers At BCHS Meeting

By Howard Schwach

City Councilman Eric Ulrich speaks at the BCHS meeting on Tuesday night while Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and UFT Chapter Chairperson David Pecoraro await their turns. City Councilman Eric Ulrich speaks at the BCHS meeting on Tuesday night while Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and UFT Chapter Chairperson David Pecoraro await their turns. District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bay looked like a hockey goalie unable to stop the slap shots coming at her hot and heavy in the Beach Channel High School auditorium on Tuesday night.

A question about where the majority of students would go after the school was phased out and closed.

"I can't answer that question," Lloyd- Bay said.

A question about where teachers would find new jobs and whether or not they would be fired should they not find a new position in a year.

"I don't have that information," Lloyd-Bay said.

A question about why the school did not receive the support it needed to stay afloat, support that has already been promised for the new school that will take the place of BCHS.

"I wasn't involved, and I really can't answer that question," she said.

About 125 parents, students, school alumni and staff gathered in the auditorium on Tuesday night to find answers as to why their school was being closed and what would happen next.

Department of Education representative Ewel Napier speaks as District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bay backs him up. Department of Education representative Ewel Napier speaks as District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bay backs him up. Because the district's high school superintendent was "attending another meeting just like this one elsewhere," Lloyd-Bay, who is the superintendent for elementary and middle schools, was thrown into the breach. As the questions got angrier and her answers more evasive, the meeting turned into a shouting match.

Ewel Napier, the DOE's deputy borough director for the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, began to read a list of a dozen bullet points about what students and parents should do under the phase-out and closing plan.

Although the plan still has to be voted on in a January 26 meeting in Staten Island, both he and Lloyd-Bay acted and spoke as if it were a done deal.

The school's UFT chairman, Dave Pecoraro, however, says that the city agency is in for a fight.

"More than 2,000 years ago, the Maccabees revolted with a much smaller army and against a greater foe than we face," Pecoraro said. "As long as we are above ground, we have a fighting chance."

Parents and alumni wait to speak. Parents and alumni wait to speak. "The new school slated for this building will seat only 125 kids. We have double that coming in each year. Where will the other kids go?" he asked.

Denise Sheridan, a mother of a special needs student at the school, said that her daughter was getting a good education at the school and that she feared that would change during the phase-out period.

"The city is setting our kids up for failure," she told The Wave outside the auditorium. "I have no idea where my kid will get her services, because I am sure the new school will not take special needs students."

Dr. Davis Morris, the school's principal, was also standing outside the auditorium, as if he were not invited to the meeting.

He declined to comment on the meeting or on the closing of his school.

"We are all soldiers here," Morris said. "We all follow orders."

Parent Denise Sheridan speaks to officials as Democratic District Leader Lew Simon waits. Parent Denise Sheridan speaks to officials as Democratic District Leader Lew Simon waits. Lloyd-Bay added to that when she told the meeting, "We are only messengers here. This is done, and the question is, how do we move forward?"

"The statistics show that this school is no longer equipped to help students move ahead," she added. "The parents have expressed their dissatisfaction and it is time to phase out and close the school."

Maria Camacho, the personnel liaison for the citywide operations center, angered many in the crowd when she said that teachers at the school would have to reapply for their jobs and that only 50 percent of them could be hired for the new school, the others being forced to move into the "open market system."

"Those teachers who are qualified for the new school can be rehired," she said.

When an ex-teacher said that he was confused, because all of the teachers presently in the school had to be qualified to hold their jobs, she answered that the new principal and a panel of others would have to decide whether the teachers were qualified for that school, which brought catcalls and angry shouts.

Special needs teacher Patti Holloran asks where her students will go as other students wait to speak. Special needs teacher Patti Holloran asks where her students will go as other students wait to speak. Where would those teachers who were deemed not qualified find jobs?

Camacho shrugged and said, "They would have to go elsewhere or become district teacher reserves [teachers without jobs who fill in as subs.]"

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announc - ed last week that he is moving to fire all DTRs who have not found a permanent job in one year.

In many cases, however, the excessed teachers are more costly than new teachers, and principals are quicker to hire the cheaper teachers, experts say.

A number of angry parents stood in line to take the microphone to charge that DOE officials set up the school for failure by sending students from the closed Far Rockaway High School who destabilized the school and then by diverting much-needed resources to both the Scholars' Academy and the Channel View School for Research, a school that shares the building with BCHS.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich was angered because no advance notice of the closing was sent to his office and because no plans were apparent for those students who would not be admitted to the new school, which will open next September.

"If they can't get into the new program, there is no place in Rockaway for them to go," Ulrich said. "If they can't get a free bus pass and can't afford public transportation off the peninsula each day, where are they going to go?"

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer was also angered.

"You had a responsibility to have somebody here tonight who can answer these questions," she said. "People came here to find the answers to their concerns and all they get is 'I can't answer that, and the person who can is not here.' "

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon also challenged Lloyd-Bay.

"You force our kids to go off the peninsula for school, then you take away their bus passes and add a toll on the bridge. You have laid-off parents and single parents who can't afford that. Somebody has lost their mind," he said.

There will be another meeting at the school on January 6 at 6 p.m., Napier said. Three members of the city's educational panel will be present and locals can make statements, but no questions will be allowed.

The Educational Priorities Panel will meet on January 26 in Staten Island for a final vote on the closing.

Locals are petitioning the board to move that meeting to a more central location for Rockaway residents.

"It's another example of the way the DOE treats us," a parent said. "There are no schools being closed in Staten Island, and that's where they chose to hold their meeting."

Pecoraro was more sanguine.

"I didn't know that there was a blizzard coming, but this meeting was a real snow job," he said. "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

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