Astoria, NY.- Community leaders of Astoria, along with local official, educators and high school student joined in a rally last Tuesday to help save Bryant High School. Over 300 people took part at the rally, in front of Bryant that is one of the 33 High Schools (six of them in Queens) on list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, in opposition to the city Department of Education’s proposal to dramatically overhaul the structure of the Western Queens institution.
The participants called on the city to reconsider Bryant’s designation for the Turnaround model. While the schools had originally been approved for targeted, less intrusive intervention models, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced in his State of the City address that he would now attempt to implement the Turnaround model. This approach, which needs state approval, would give the city authority to close PLA schools, reopen them under new names and replace up to half of the teachers and staff.
By April 30 the DOE will makes it decision as to which model they intend to impose on Bryant before the beginning of the fall 2011 semester.
For assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, the participation at the rally and the public hearing that followed was a duty, as she is a Bryant alumna and a strong supporter of public education.
“Our students come first, and we should always work to make improvements that ensure they get the best education possible,” Simotas said. “But these drastic changes will only increase uncertainty and stunt any progress that students, teachers and administrators have been able to make.”
“Putting Bryant H.S. through such an extreme turnaround would do more harm than good and would undoubtedly jeopardize students’ ability to learn,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “The disruption such a move would cause will hinder the education of those who should be first and foremost in our minds. Our children deserve a good education provided by caring teachers, which can be achieved without invading and turning around the entire school, its faculty and its functionality.”
Another Bryant High School alumni was Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
“As a former student and current Council Member that represents this school in the New York City Council I know that this school is a great institution,” Van Bramer said. “It is within these school walls I developed my passion to debate and began my aspirations towards government and the public sector. I will always be proud to stand in support of Bryant.”
The public hearing was held in Bryant’s auditorium so that the community could voice its opinion about the planned changes to the school community. During her remarks, Simotas presented hundreds of signatures from community members opposing the drastic overhaul of her alma mater.
“No one knows better than the community what our students need, and the community knows our students do not need turnaround,” Simotas said. “Students need a consistent investment in their education.”
Simotas noted that comprehensive high schools like Bryant are what come to mind when one thinks of high school.
“Students of different interests and abilities mingling and learning from one another is the hallmark of a public education,” the Assemblymember continued. “A comprehensive high school provides a general education to children who have not yet chosen their career path. This is a necessity in a community as diverse as Western Queens.”
Bryant student body President Sotiria Zouroudi told her fellow students, teachers and community leaders that “everyone keeps saying that with this Turnaround method students don’t get affected; while in reality they are. We will end up losing teachers that have helped us, pushed us to learn and people that we don’t feel embarrassed to go to in order to get the extra help in a subject we will need. It will be like the first day of high school all over again. This plan doesn’t affect only the teachers, but the school as a whole.”
Simotas applauded the students and alumni who attended the rally and hearing for showing the city that Bryant has the support of its community. She pledged to work with her fellow lawmakers and community leaders to find a solution that would allow the school to make progress but keep it intact.
Assembling in a sea of blue and gold in the auditorium of William C. Bryant High School, hundreds of students, parents, teachers and former alumni voiced their concerns about the possibility of the school’s closure.
Attended by Juan Mendez, Superintendent of Queens high schools, the public engagement drew many passionate words from the crowded room.
Not willing to let their school go just yet, faculty members stood up one after the other enlightening the superintendent of the positive impact the school has had, not only on their students but on their individual lives.
After immigrating to the U.S., Stanley Sankat was able to acquire a job at Bryant in 1992. Since becoming a full-time teacher at Bryant, he has worked painlessly to help educate all students who have had the opportunity to sit in his classroom.
Sankat has witnessed the improvements Bryant has achieved over his 19-year career while establishing a tight connection with students he calls the “Bryant Family.”
“Just because we hit a bump in the road does not mean we should be punished for trying,” Sankat said. “A school is not a factory. We can predict our own outcomes. Please take a holistic approach to your assessment.”
In Bryant’s case, the graduation rate has steadily risen over the past 3 years. In 2008, the graduation rate was 51 percent; in 2009 it rose to 58 percent. In 2010, Bryant’s graduation rate just missed the DOE’s requirements to avoid being listed on the PLA and finished the school year only graduating 59.6 percent of its students last spring.
Although an institution is identified as PLA, the school it is eligible for the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding. In order to receive the funding, they are required to submit a plan to implement four federally-approved intervention models.
James Vasquez, the UFT district representative for Queens high schools, said although the DOE holds these public meetings with the community to get feedback, he believes they rarely have an effect on the Schools Chancellor Cathie Black’s final decision.
DOE Spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the public engagements are extremely helpful to the DOE.
“These meetings give us an opportunity to hear what’s working and what’s not working directly from faculty, students, and the community,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said. “We’ve been soliciting ideas directly from schools regarding budgets and models. It’s a collaborative and informative process that helps the [DOE] figure out the best models that need to be imposed.”