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Ultimately One Lost, One Saved Following School Closures

In Bed-Stuy, Banneker is spared, while an all-boys academy will be closed after this year

The New York City Department of Education today released the second and final list of schools it planned to shutter due to poor performance, and one Bedford-Stuyvesant school under consideration – P.S. 256, Benjamin Banneker – was spared.

Overall, the DOE will phase out 19 schools and truncate six. Affected are five elementary schools, two K-8 schools, five middle schools, five secondary (6-12) schools and eight high schools

Banneker’s principal Sharyn Hemphill offered no comment about the school’s near-death experience. But parents picking their children up after school seemed joyful and relieved.

“We’ve been hearing about them trying to close this school for a few weeks now,” said one parent who preferred to remain unnamed. Her daughter attends the school, and is in the 3rd grade. “A bunch of us parents got together last night to decide what we should do next if they decided to shut it down. We were planning a protest. So we’re just happy to hear it’ll stay open for at least another year.”

But Banneker was one of two Bed-Stuy schools from a list of 47 total low-performing schools that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott named for possible closure. The other school, The Academy of Business and Community Development (ABDC)-- an all-boys middle school and high school – did not fare so well.

The DOE announced yesterday the school would be shuttered, only five years after it opened. Not only that, instead of its usual phase-out over three years, the DOE took an unusual step, and decided it would close the school at the academic year’s end.

In the school’s closure proposal, the DOE cited diminishing interest and enrollment by the community in the school, along with dwindling numbers in its existing student population as factors why it no longer made fiscal sense to keep the school open.

It’s an unfortunate fate for a school that started with such high expectations. ABCD was established in 2006 with the help of the Urban Assembly, a not-for-profit group that, since 1997, has been behind the creation of 14 - and counting - small, public high schools in New York City.

Since its founding, ABCD has seen two principals. The first was Clyde Cole who chose single-sex education to focus squarely on the needs of young black boys. He believed a boys-only school would allow fewer distractions and an increased focus on community building.

However, after only four years, the school was earning progressively failing marks on its annual progress report, and was already in line for possible closure. Beginning in fall of 2010, the DOE replaced Cole with a new principal, Simone McIntosh, with hopes she could help turn the school around.

But, it was too late; the school could not be saved. This year, ABCD’s middle school ranked in the bottom 8 percentile on its 2010-11 School Progress report, with an overall score 21.4 out of 100, and an overall grade of a D.

The high school shows an “N/A” in all categories, meaning a final score remains pending, likely from a discrepancy in scoring. But the high school’s Regents exam rates were low, with students scoring on average in the bottom 42 percent on their global history Regents, weighted against their peers citywide; in the bottom 26 percent in science; and in the bottom 3 percent in mathematics.

Principal Simone said she could not comment about her school’s closing, as she escorted the kids out after school. She hung around outside for a while talking to the students in what seemed a bittersweet moment, a countdown to the end. And most of the students seemed affected.

“I’m really kinda sad this is happening, because it’s my first year here, and now I won’t even be coming back,” said one freshman student.

“I can’t really talk about it right now,” said one student, and dropped his head. “Maybe, if you ask me tomorrow? I’m sorry”

However, another group of students expressed unanimously their discontent with one major aspect of the school.

“Girls!” they answered when asked about their school year.

“We want girls,” continued one student, a sophomore. “I mean, don’t get me wrong… the school was good. We like our teachers. But I think we would have done better in school and been more motivated if we had girls in the class. Nobody wants to look at a bunch of boys all day.”

“I liked it here,” added another student who was in his junior year. “I just left another school last year that closed down. Now I’ve got to find another school for my senior year, which kinda sucks.”

He may not have to go too far. As in the past, many of the phase-out and closed schools will be replaced by a new school, often times in the same building, with the assumption it will provide a better educational option for students.

“We have already begun discussions with the community to learn what they need and what they want, and will use the information from those discussions to help identify great school proposals and school leaders,” stated Walcott in his latest announcement letter.

After June 2012, the Academy of Business and Community Development, in all of its well meaning intentions for helping young black and Hispanic males, will be no more. Unfortunately, another attempt at helping this population that needs so much once again falls to the wayside.

Vivian Biondolillo August 19, 2013 at 10:26 AM
A true lack of leadership on the Principal's and Mayor's handling of this school. The boys are the losers as this was a much needed place where something could have come out of their lives.

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