The for New York City public high schools: The seven high schools in Bed-Stuy received one A, two B's, two C's and an F, and there is one school that has not yet been rated.
However, Bernard Gassaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School, is refuting the “F” grade he feels was summarily handed to his school, claiming the only true “failure” the school has received is a fair shake at real reform.
Gassaway says although the F grade comes as no surprise, if it’s the goal of the Department of Education to close down a school, it will contribute to factors that will lead to just that. And without enough time for reform and cooperation from the DOE in providing the tools to meet the Department’s own measurements for success, the school’s profile will continue to be challenged.
“This is not about pointing fingers, but there is so much more to consider, and there are factors that we can’t ignore,” Gassaway told Bed-Stuy Patch. “When you’re dealing with a population of students with high needs constantly transferred into my school… students who were formerly incarcerated, court-involved or classified as special education, etc., I cannot turn them away. We have the need, but yet we don’t have the services.
“Its sort of a catch 22, because if you bend the rules, they can close you down. If you play by the rules and cheat the students, they can close you as well.“
Over the last three years, beginning before Gassaway took over as principal at BGHS two years ago, the school has been under intense scrutiny for . For the last five years, the graduation rate at BGHS has ranked as one of the lowest in the city, coinciding with the pass rates by students on their Regents exams, also very low.
With a current population of 1600 students, BGHS is one of the last remaining large schools in New York City to not be broken into smaller schools. Yet, according to Gassaway, its incoming freshman class has been shrinking year after year, from 1400 freshman students at one point, to its most recent 2011 enrollment of 235 new students.
For this year’s progress reports, the City instituted a curve that assigned D’s and F’s to 10 percent of schools — double the percentage of 4.7 percent of schools that were assigned D’s and F’s last year. Over all, 79 schools received D’s and 32 received F’s, a total of 51 more schools this year than last to receive the two lowest grades assigned under the system.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief academic officer for the city’s Department of Education said he believed the scores offered “a more precise and accurate representation of how the schools are actually performing,” reported the New York Times.
However, by increasing the percentage of schools to receive low grades, the city is deliberately widening the pool of schools that could be considered for closing or transformation. This year, 109 schools met the city’s criteria for closure, compared to 53 last year.
“I will not argue with the reality of the data,” said Gassaway. “I would give some of our instructional programs a D grade; I would give grade some of our Regents results an F. We do face many challenges.
“But as there is a failure formula, there is a success formula. The DOE has decided to pursue the at Boys and Girls High School. If they want to deny this fact, then make the necessary changes - make the bold decisions.
“Do not take the easy way out and create conditions that will justify closing the school. I believe closing Boys and Girls High School has become an obsession for some individuals. They will not give up.”
And Gassaway is not giving up either. This year, he’s taking an aggressive approach to ramping up the programs that address head-on some the more critical needs of the students, including more parental involvement through , , and that give gifted students a chance to take college courses and earn college credits while still in high school.
However, none of that may matter if the school is closed after this academic school year. With an "F" grade this year, a "C" in 2009/2010 and a "D" in 2008/2009, the possibility of closure is a very real one.
“I’m not interested in manipulating the data; I’m looking to develop those who want to be developed,” said Gassaway. “My priority is to improve the quality of instruction and to motivate young people to understand the importance of achievement. The process takes 2-3 years, if not longer. In the end, I’d rather take the high road and be an example to the students to know that their successes are real.”
Correction: This article incorrectly stated that Boys & Girls High School received back-to-back F's, including this year. That is incorrect. BGHS received a C grade in the 2000/2010 academic school year.