on the street

In three boroughs, students and parents react to closure news

At 15 schools across the city today, administrators who had only just found out that their schools were slated to close broke the bad news to parents, teachers, and students. We stopped by schools in three boroughs to see how community members were responding.

Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers

Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers

Students at Jane Addams heard about the closure announcement either from their eighth-period teachers or from letters distributed by staff and DOE officials who were at the school before the 2:20 p.m. dismissal.

A school staff member said teachers were staying late to meet with administrators and union officials but that few were surprised by today’s news.

“We had a meeting a month earlier, so we were kind of expecting it.” she said, referring to the early engagement meetings the DOE has held at each of the 47 schools it considered for closure.

Since then, Jane Addams has been mired in a massive crediting scandal, first reported by the Daily News, that could threaten graduation for hundreds of students.

Students today said they were worried how the closure decision would affect their credits. But they were divided about whether the school deserved its fate.

“We don’t learn in our school. We barely do anything,” said ninth-grader Myasia Irons. “We don’t have Spanish classes, we don’t have health classes. I might transfer.”

But a sophomore said he thought Jane Addams’s problems wouldn’t be solved by closing its doors.

“I believe it’s only failing because when they closed the other big schools in the zone they started sending the kids here,” he said, echoing a frequent critique of school closures.

And students had good things to say about the school’s under-fire principal, Sharron Smalls. Senior Tanay Carr said Smalls let her stay in the principal’s office to avoid fights, even after she was suspended several times. Another student told GothamSchools, “She’s like a mother to me.” And a ninth-grader said emphatically, “She’s a good principal. Leave her alone!”

Manhattan Theatre Lab High School

Most students pouring out of the Martin Luther King campus near Lincoln Center had no idea that one of the six schools in the building had been slated for closure. But students from Manhattan Theatre Lab, housed in the basement, said they were told during an eighth-period, whole-school meeting that school might be closed and a final decision would be made in February.

“It’s kind of a shocker,” said a ninth-grader. “This is my first year at this school and it’s surprising that they’re talking about it being shut down.”

Under the watchful eye of a dean who asked us to leave the campus, a senior told GothamSchools that she thought the reason for closure might be that it’s hard for people to graduate on time.

“Everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and it’s not fair,” the senior said.

Legacy Integrated High School

Long after school hours had ended, students continued to straggle out of Legacy’s building near Union Square in Manhattan. They reported that they had been called into an assembly and told that the school would close.

Alicia Solis, a ninth-grader, said she was happy with the school because she thought she was getting the classes she needed to advance and because there is little fighting.

“We’re all doing everything we’re supposed to,” she said, surprised that the school’s efforts had been identified as falling short.

P.S. 161, The Crown School

Once a top choice for Crown Heights families, P.S. 161 has had a rough patch in recent years, posting low progress report scores. Today, the DOE announced that it would cut the middle school grades but leave the elementary school open.

Parents of elementary school students said they didn’t know how the middle school performed.

“Since my children aren’t there yet, I’m not sure what kind school it is,” said Katherine Seward, who has children in kindergarten and third grade.

But she said she was aware that both schools had been struggling.

“We can do more to improve,” Seward said.

Another elementary school parent, who declined to give her name, said she was not concerned the middle school was closing.

“I doubt I’ll even be living in New York by the time he’s in middle school,” the mother said. She said she planned to move in part because the city is too expensive and in part because she was looking for better schools.

 

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.