“He does not care about students, he does not care about education,” said Dermot Smyth, a representative of the United Federation of Teachers, of Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press conference in front of the Northern Boulevard school last Friday. “This is political grandstanding and it needs to stop.”
The mayor has proposed cutting staff and students at under-performing schools across the city, primarily large high schools. Several smaller schools would then gradually take over the space.
“The trend of improvement is there [at Flushing High School], we don't need additional layers of educational bureaucracy,” said State Senator Toby Stavisky, citing Jamaica High School, where the city closed the school and installed four principals. “That's not the answer.”
Last year, Flushing High School had a graduation rate of 60 percent. While far from stellar, proponents argue that the graduation rate has been steadily increasing, and is far better than the 39 percent graduation rate in 2002.
“Is 60 percent acceptable?” asked Stavisky. “No, it should be a lot higher, but when you consider the fact that 20 percent of the students are English language learners, we are already starting at a disadvantage.”
The UFT's Smyth charged that the mayor is closing the schools out of spite, because he couldn't come to terms with the UFT on a teacher evaluation system during talks in December of last year.
“This is a man who walked away from the negotiating table, and threw these school into turmoil because he couldn't get his way,” he said.
The mayor's office did not return a request seeking comment.
Smyth argues that since the state and the governor came to terms on an evaluation system recently, insuring the state would receive $700 million in federal “Race to the Top” funds, the schools should remain open and additional money should go toward improving them.
“This is not about achievement, it's not about success, we all know this is about a failed negotiation process,” said Jane Reiff of the Queens High School Presidents Council. “We need to focus on the school and give them the support they need. That's what the DOE should be doing, and they're not.”
Before the announcement that Flushing High School would be part of the mayor's “turnaround” program, Flushing High School was technically in the “transformation” program, which means that instead of closing the school, additional funds would be allocated to implement programs to help students succeed.
Stavisky said that she and the area's other legislators met with the former principal of Flushing High School in 2010, and discussed a variety of new programs, including a double English curriculum, small learning communities, and a Saturday Academy.
“We were put into transformation to give us the opportunity to improve, that was the whole point,” said physical education teacher Jane Flanagan. "That whole thing gets turned over again."
The city argues that by replacing the large high schools with several smaller high schools, there will be fewer students in a classroom and less overcrowding.
“If that's what works, then implement it in the existing school,” said Reiff. “The DOE is supposed to be there to support the school and help them achieve, not sit there and judge it.”
Located on Northern Boulevard, at 139 years old Flushing High School is the oldest public high school in the city.
"We have compassion for the students, our school, and our community,” said Assemblywoman Grace Meng. “Flushing High School is a landmark in our community. They have been trying really hard the past two years to make sure that they are improving."