public relations

Hundreds turn out to protest plans to close Jamaica High School

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Hundreds of Queens residents filled the school's auditorium. Many had graduated from Jamaica or could name family members who had.

An event billed as a question and answer session about the proposed closure of Jamaica High School quickly became a pep rally for the school’s supporters last night. 

Hundreds of angry students, parents, and teachers packed Jamaica’s auditorium last night to protest the Department of Education’s plan to close the school. Chants of “Save our school” and “Four more years” could be heard blocks away and department officials had to fight to explain per-pupil funding and the school’s phase-out plan over waves of boos and shouts.

One of several large high schools marked for closure, Jamaica has struggled in recent years with low graduation rates and a high number of students who have learning disabilities or are recent immigrants and don’t speak English.

In its proposal, which the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on in January, the DOE says it plans to replace Jamaica with two small high schools.

Built in 1927, the school has graduated generations of Queens residents, many of whom turned up last night to defend their alma mater. Many who spoke accused the DOE of underfunding Jamaica while “dumping” some of the most difficult to educate students on its doorstep.

Alan Coles, a retired Jamaica teacher who still coaches the girls track team, said that after the school was listed as persistently dangerous in 2007, it lost the majority of its best students.

“Students who could not get into any other school were sent here,” he said. “So what did they expect our graduation rate to be?”

Jamaica’s four-year graduation rate is 46.2 percent and has slowly been increasing over the last several years.

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Dopeen Mohammed, a junior in the Gateway honors program, said during the time she’d been at Jamaica the school had lost its Advanced Placement chemistry and Spanish classes to budget cuts, along with more than a dozen teachers. Other students asked why the new small secondary school that shares the building, Queens Collegiate, has more Smart Boards and new computers than Jamaica has.

Debra Kurshan, head of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning, waited for the booing to stop before responding to a question.

“If you have the kind of resources to open two new schools, why not put it into building up this school?” asked Michele Williams, president of Jamaica’s parent association.

“We have put a lot of resources into the school,” responded Debra Kurshan, head of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning.

“We don’t doubt there are a lot of successes at Jamaica. But we do have a large number of students who are not doing well,” said Jeanette Reed, the superintendent for District 28.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”