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.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”