City Renews Attempt To Shutter Sheepshead Bay H.S.

Sheepshead Bay High School students protesting the city’s closure attempts in the last school year. (Photo: Robert Fernandez)

The third time’s the charm? New York City’s school administrators seem to hope so.

For the third time in three years, the Department of Education has again set its sights on closing Sheepshead Bay High School (3000 Avenue X), including it in a list of 24 high schools slated for closure as early as the end of this school year.

The “early engagement” list, reported on yesterday by Gotham Schools, is comprised of schools that the Department of Education says comes up short on student test results, attendance rates, graduate rates and college preparedness. In addition to high schools, it contains 36 elementary and middle schools.

Sheepshead Bay High School is one of seven high schools on the list that the city tried to close last year using the “turnaround” plan, which mandates closing the school, firing the staff, reopening under a new name and hiring a maximum of 50 percent of the teachers from the previous administration. Courts threw the brakes on the plan, though, after the teachers’ and principals’ unions successfully sued, claiming that it violated their collective bargaining agreement with the city.

The city also included Sheepshead Bay High School on its closure list in 2010, but following student-faculty protests, the city reversed course – only to try again a year later.

Schools can be removed from the list if they show dramatic improvements and outline a plan forward, but teachers and local leaders claim the Department of Education’s repeated assaults make those improvements impossible.

During the Panel for Education Policy’s (PEP) hearing on the most recent failed closure attempt, Councilman Lew Fidler and teachers made that point, noting that despite numerous obstacles the city has put in their way, the school’s administration has still made dramatic improvements not reflected on the city’s report cards.

Fidler said the school shows strength in extracurricular activities and its ability to serve a unique student population of ESL children and kids from broken homes – noting that the successes have been made in the face of continuous Department of Education interference.

“In 2008 you started picking on Sheepshead Bay High School,” Fidler said, referring to the DOE’s earlier attempts to shutter the school. “In spite of that fact, these very same teachers that you want to get rid of half of have improved the graduation rate even though you are telling them that you are coming for their jobs.”

The school demonstrated steady improvements over the past three school years in its first-year student achievements, graduation rates, regent diploma rates and attendance.

These achievements were made in the face of repeated threats of closure, as well as a public campaign to portray the school as failing. Administrators at the school testified at the PEP hearing that anxiety over the school’s future and its performance has kept strong-performing junior high school students from applying, and gave the school a potentially weaker student body to work from.

John Dewey High School (50 Avenue X) in Bath Beach was also slated for closure last year, but is not on this year’s list.