Hey DOE! It's Kind of Your Fault Boys and Girls High School is Under-Performing, Community Says

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Jason Lewis/Village Voice
Principal Bernard Gassaway urges the community to play their part in ensuring that kids get educated.
Those advocating to preserve the current structure of Boys and Girls High School say the New York City Department of Education has failed to calculate the role it has played in contributing to the school's drop in performance in recent years.

The historic Bedford-Stuyvesant high school is facing the prospect of being phased out, radically redesigned and divided into several different district or charter schools -- after receiving poor performance grades from the DOE for the last three years.

Members of the Boys and Girls family, politicians and members of the surrounding community passionately reminded the DOE -- at a community meeting held at Boys and Girls last night -- that the school has admitted nearly 2000 underachieving students from around the borough in the last three years.

"You cannot ask a school to absorb 1800 students from all over the borough, who themselves have been dislocated, and expect that they will come together under one roof and...really function at optimal capacity," Congressman-elect Hakeem Jeffries told District 16 Superintendent Karen Watts and another DOE representative at last night's forum.

The influx of the 1800 dislocated students is a result of the DOE's decision to phase out a number of large high schools across Brooklyn in recent years -- including schools such as Canarsie, South Shore, and Tilden. The year prior to the infusion of students, the school earned a B grade from the DOE.

"The department of education created a climate of confusion here at Boys and Girls, and that's the reason why we're seeing the school not necessarily hit some of the performance measures," Jeffries said. "What we're asking is that the department of education take a very hard look at what it has done to hurt the progress here at Boys and Girls."

Watts insisted that no final decision has been made on phasing out the school. The DOE may instead opt to implement an intensive assistance program for the remainder of this school year to try and help boost the school's performance to a satisfactory level.

It's unclear how realistic it is to expect an assistance program of any capacity to lift up the school's performance in just a few short months. But, that appears to be the only alternative option available to the school if it hopes to remain intact.

The high school will have to improve upon its poor attendance rates, a 39 percent graduation rate for four-year students, low college matriculation rates and back-to-back F's from the DOE.

The DOE issued a report to community members stating that the department has given "considerable support" to the high school, "but unfortunately [the DOE's] best efforts have not turned the school around."

Boys and Girls Principal Bernard Gassaway -- who received much praise yesterday from parents, students and alumni -- said he envisioned that the high school would ultimately meet this crossroad.

"God has given me the prophecy to see this day three years ago. I knew this was coming," he told the audience. "We were not going to reject any of our young people who wanted to come to Boys and Girls High School."

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Jason Lewis/Village Voice
Alumnus Lee Church declares the school is here to stay.
Students told stories of how Boys and Girls has helped boost their self- confidence, improve their academic performance, provide them with a since of belonging and guide them through tough times. Deanna, a senior student whose father has suffered numerous strokes in recent months, said the school has been a haven during her troubled times.

"No one understands the fact that this is our home, and I'm here until 9 p.m. at night doing my work or doing something educational. Why do people have to take this away from us?" she asked.

A number of speakers accused Bloomberg and the DOE of targeting the school, and others like it, for economic reasons and the real estate its campus occupies.

"It's about real estate and it's about money," Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, whose kids and grand-kids attended Boys and Girls, said. "Our children are not a business. We want to educate our children just like everyone else wants to educate their children."

Lee Church, former Boy's and Girls basketball star and current representative to Jeffries, made it clear that the Boys and Girls community will fight to preserve its school.

"You're not here coming into a school that doesn't have a plan. We don't need Mayor Bloomberg's plan. We don't need Dennis Walcott's plan," Church said. "We're here to prove a point and show the point that we are here to stay... [Bloomberg's] agenda will not, as much as I can stand in the way, happen here in this building."


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