SCHOOL FIGHTS TO SAVE ITSELF
Newtown H.S. Making Progress: Principal
State Sen. Hiram Monserrate assured the school community that he would exhaust all options in convincing the New York State Department of Education to take the 113-year-old institution off its list of “low-achieving” Queens high schools, which includes Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood and John Adams High School in Ozone Park.
“The recommendations are not final,” said the state legislator. “They are a work in progress. The state Department of Education was invited here—they chose not to come.”
School principal John Ficolara identified Newtown’s failure to reach a 60-percent graduation rate from 2006 through 2008 as the primary reason why his school made the list.
According to published reports, state DOE officials have also indicated that the flagged locations have yielded the lowest levels of performance in English language arts and mathematics in the state and failed to show progress.
Even so, Ficolara argued that Newtown has shown across-theboard academic improvement in 2009 and distributed copies of the latest progress reports at the evening session to prove his point.
In addition, the principal, a school alumnus, justified Newtown’s modest graduation by pointing out that many of his students are foreign born and speak 59 different languages, which often prevents people from graduating in time.
Those in attendance learned of the four options their institute is faced with, including:
• school redesign, whereby the principal and half the staff would be replaced;
• the school remains on the list until it demonstrates improvement;
• transformation into a charter school; and,
• complete school closure.
“If you look at the data, in almost every category we’ve improved by every measure. Newtown keeps going up; that’s a tribute to our staff,” said Ficolara.
New York City High School Superintendent Francesca Pena promised that she would be working with all parties to create a plan that would be both feasible and the most convenient for the school in question.
To that end, she noted her past efforts to help redesign George Washington High School (Bronx) and increase its graduation rate.
When asked by one parent why the principal would risk losing his position in two of the options, Monserrate replied: “It’s not something I support. I don’t believe in scapegoating anyone. I really believe it takes a village and this village of Newtown High School is coming together.”
The school community was told to prepare for several more meetings on the issue and maybe even a street rally up ahead.
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