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Grover Cleveland High School
July 6, 2012
Schooled in activism, Grover Cleveland grad aims for law school
Grover Cleveland High School student Diana Rodriguez spearheaded student protest against her school's closure. Less than two weeks after graduating from high school, Diana Rodriguez is staying busy. The Queens teenager is up at 6 a.m. to go for a morning run, work her two summer jobs, and take driving lessons a few months before she is set to start college. It’s a heavy workload — but it's not the biggest responsibility the 17-year-old has taken on. This spring, she led classmates at Grover Cleveland High School in a fight for the school's life. The school was one of 33 the city planned to close and reopen using an overhaul process, known as "turnaround," that included changing the school’s name and replacing half of the school staff. Rodriguez was enraged. Already the senior class president, she sprang into action galvanizing her classmates to protest the turnaround plans. “I wouldn't stand for it,” said Rodriguez. “You can’t mess with my education – education is a right.” That was Rodriguez's rallying cry as she joined other students in schools facing closure across the city in a group called Student Activists United. The group turned out students for public hearings, called Panel for Educational Policy members who would vote on the closures, and even held an early-morning rally outside Mayor Bloomberg's Upper East Side home.
April 26, 2012
City withdraws "turnaround" plans at two high-profile high schools
Students crowded the auditorium at a public hearing last week at Bushwick Community High School. When the Panel for Educational Policy meets tonight to consider dozens of proposals for school “turnaround,” two high schools with a host of a heavyweight supporters won’t be on the agenda. Bushwick Community High School and Grover Cleveland High School were among 26 schools that the department had proposed to close and reopen — with new names and new teachers — in an attempt to win federal school reform funds. Department officials had said the schools needed radical interventions to help them improve. But today the officials said they had determined after listening to public comment and reviewing performance data that Bushwick and Cleveland didn’t need major changes after all. The schools “have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. The about-face comes weeks after the department yanked seven top-rated schools from the turnaround list and just hours before the panel’s scheduled vote. It also comes after the schools received intense political and community support and, in the case of Bushwick, media attention.
April 6, 2012
Voices from turnaround hearings reflect on schools' qualities
Public hearings about the city's plan to "turn around" dozens of struggling city schools have attracted vociferous protest. But behind the anger and frustration we found teachers and students who had carefully considered their schools' need to improve and the potential effects of the turnaround plan. At six hearings in four boroughs, teachers and students said their schools had not been given enough time to improve with the help of federal School Improvement Grants, and warned that turnaround would make improvement more difficult. Here's what some of them told us when we asked them to delve deeper into their thoughts about their schools' pasts, presents, and future. Joe Puntino, social studies teacher at Automotive High School What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far? "I don't know where this money went. Last year, the one when we were [using the federal model called] transformation, it seemed to me that most of the money went to pizza. Every event we had, the students had, there were 20 pizza pies. The only thing that I see that New Visions, [the non-profit that supervises Automotive,] has actually done, which is a good thing, is they brought in something called "Datacation," which is a great tool. It's the best thing they've done. It's basically a one-stop store for teachers. Gradebook, anecdotal logs, contact information. It's a great tool. The only thing I can positively say that they did well. Other than that, they walk around into our classrooms, they jot down notes and you hear nothing." In what areas do you think the school needs further improvement? "For the students coming in here, there can't be 40 percent with [Individualized Education Plans for special education students]. Any school's going to fail with 40 percent IEPs. There had to be a better proportion of non-IEPS to IEPs. We'll take them, we'll teach them, we love them, but 40 percent? Any school isn't going to make the benchmark that the state wants."
April 3, 2012
At two schools not saved from turnaround, the hearings go on
Grover Cleveland High School students march around the Ridgewood, Queens school's perimeter before the closure hearing. When public hearings about the city's plans to "turn around" two large high schools began last night, few of their supporters had heard that other schools had been spared the aggressive reform process. Herbert H. Lehman High School and Grover Cleveland High School were not among seven top-rated schools that the city announced yesterday would not undergo turnaround after all. The controversial process requires schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers. A third school slated for a public hearing Monday night, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, had its turnaround plans withdrawn. But at Lehman and Cleveland, the hearings went on without interruption — with students, teachers, and graduates at each offering more than three hours of testimony about their schools. Cleveland Diana Rodriguez, the senior class president at Cleveland, saw the surprising news about changes to the turnaround list on her phone during a pre-hearing rally organized by students. “Obviously Cleveland is not on the list. This is very disappointing for us but we will not give up,” she said. “Tonight we will show that we have a voice and will not give in.” That voice grew strained over the course of the afternoon and evening from loud chants and cheers. Before the closure hearing, Rodriguez led a band of students — including one dressed in a tiger costume — on a march around the neighborhood. As they passed the Q54 bus on Metropolitan Avenue, the driver honked repeatedly at the procession and other cars joined the chorus. More students joined when the group returned to the school's entrance on Himrod Street, until the rally swelled to nearly 50.
April 2, 2012
Marshaled by Marshall, Queens officials join in turnaround fight
Dozens of Queens elected officials and their policy advisers rallied today in Kew Gardens to denounce the city's plans to turnaround 33 schools, including several from Queens. Standing beside a dozen elected officials this morning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled the anxiety in the voices of the many Queens students, teachers and school leaders who have implored her to help them fight city plans to close their schools this year. "When they came to us, I heard children cry, 'What am I going to do?'" Marshall said at a press conference denouncing the city's plans to "turn around" 33 schools, including eight Queens schools. "They love their schools, they want to stay in their schools. They love learning in their schools. I stand hand in hand here with the children. They do not want this." Marshall convened the press conference just hours before Queens' first public hearing about turnaround, the controversial process the city has proposed for 33 struggling schools. But the event was far from Marshall's first public statement on the plans, which would require the schools to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. She also held a hearing at Queens Borough Hall about the proposals in February, where she unveiled an uncharacteristically aggressive stance against the Department of Education. The shift makes sense: For the previous decade, Queens has seen relatively few of its schools shuttered for poor performance, and of the 23 schools whose closures or truncations were approved in February, only one was in the borough. But the borough is home to a full quarter of the schools proposed for turnaround.
March 7, 2012
Students bring anti-turnaround message to PEP members
Wassem Albakka, a sophomore from Grady High School, tapes a poster of PEP member Linda Bryant to a fence near her Upper East Side office building. When student protesters came knocking on the front door of Eduardo Martí's office building this afternoon, the mayoral appointee to the Panel for Education Policy wasn't there. The same was true when they tried the offices of fellow appointees Linda Bryant and Judy Bergtraum. But the band of eight students, all from high schools the city has put up for closure, still used chants, drumming, and "wanted" posters with the panelists faces on them to leave them a message: that they should not vote to close their schools. A City University of New York official blocked the students from entering Martí's office on East 80th Street shortly before 3 p.m. But a receptionist listened patiently by phone as Diana Rodriguez, a senior at Grover Cleveland High School, read off a list of "crimes he is wanted for": "One, violation of civil rights: He approved 23 school closing affecting 10,000 students. He approved countless policies that have resulted in only 13 percent of Black and Latino students graduating ready for college," she said. "Two, breach of the public trust: He rubber stamped all of Mayor Bloomberg's proposals, against the will of parents, students and communities. Three, conflict of interest: He received funds from the mayor's administration while holding public office."
February 23, 2012
City alters Regents grading, credit recovery policies after audit
The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools. The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations. At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests. Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.) Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere. Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements. The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
February 14, 2012
Fearing turnaround, Queens schools seek borough prez's help
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, held a hearing Monday night for families and teachers at the eight would-be turnaround schools in Queens. Dozens of teachers, parents, students, and at least one principal from the eight Queens schools facing "turnaround" say they have brought their concerns to district superintendents and other Department of Education officials this month to no effect. On Monday evening, they found a more sympathetic audience: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who vowed to push back against the city's plans to close the schools. Marshall's uncharacteristically aggressive promise came at a meeting at Queens Borough Hall that her office organized about the city's plan to "turn around" 33 struggling schools. Under the plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced last month as a way to secure federal funding, the schools would close and reopen this summer with new names and at least half their staffs replaced. Marshall sat before a standing-room-only crowd with Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, the citywide school board that decides the fate of schools proposed for closure. As a panel member, Fedkowskyj has emerged as a frequent critic of the mayor's school policies, signaling Marshall's endorsement, but she has typically been soft-spoken on education issues. That was not the case on Monday. Marshall often clapped and cheered as she listened to dozens of teachers and families defend their schools. Occasionally she even interjected to describe how her respect for teachers developed over years of working as an early childhood educator.
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