|Former Bronx teacher and education activist Peter Lamphere|
speaks during a rally to save Lehman High School.
Clutching an array of posters and wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Lehman United,” the crowd packed into the school’s auditorium last night to rally against its closure.
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial proposal, 33 of the city’s most troubled schools will close in June before being renamed and reopened three months later with the same students.
The radical proposal, which was announced during this month’s State of the City address, will also remove more than 1,500 teachers—up to half of the faculty—from these schools.
The aggressive strategy was developed after negotiations over teacher evaluations broke down, causing the state to withhold $30 million in federal funding from the city.
Of the 33 schools under fire, 10 are located in the Bronx including M.S. 391 in Tremont, Banana Kelly High School in Longwood and Fordham Leadership Academy in Belmont.
During last night's meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, protestors took aim at city education officials as they presented their closure plans and implored authorities to give them more time.
Current Lehman High School senior Xsavier Daniels derided the city for being apathetic towards students and said the closure would represent a major setback for the current cohort.
“The education of students should be taken seriously in order to produce leaders of the future,” he said. “We cannot stand by while the mayor pursues this inconsiderate endeavor.
“We must restore the voices of students and teachers across the city and it starts here at Lehman High School.”
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a former schoolteacher with 35 years experience, also lambasted officials for weaving a web of lies ever since mayoral control was instituted.
“I had great hope that the changes that the Bloomberg administration would initiate…would make the system better. That was my hope,” he said.
“My hope over the years has gradually faded into dismay. They have set up a system that I just can’t trust anymore.”
Benedetto also accused Bloomberg of using the 33 schools as pawns in the negotiating process.
“What they are doing here is disrupting a community, disrupting school staff and hurting the students within the school and it all comes down to one word—revenge. The mayor has a vengeance against the UFT. This might be coming out of the Department of Education but it says Bloomberg all over it.”
Although the meeting was open to the public, both NY1 and the New York Daily News were reportedly barred from entering the school.
Education officials also banned this reporter from taking photographs of proceedings, even though dozens of students filmed their colleagues delivering their testimonies.
Department of Education cluster six leader Jose Ruiz did his best to answer the crowd’s questions and assured parents all current students will be guaranteed a seat at the new school.
“If the proposal is approved, on June 30 Lehman High School will close and on July 1, we will open a new school in the same space where Lehman is right now,” he said,
However, Ruiz explained that current teachers would be forced to reapply for their positions and half of staff would be purged.
A five-person hiring committee—comprising of the school principal and two representatives appointed by each the Chancellor and the teachers union—will then select candidates based on their qualifications and seniority.
In recent years, Lehman High School has been mired in controversy.
Former principal Janet Saranceno resigned in August after becoming embroiled in a grade-changing scandal. She was accused of giving course credit to students who failed their classes but passed their Regents exams.
Department of Education officials also slapped the school with an F on its two most recent progress reports, placing it in the bottom four percent of the city’s high schools.
But Lehman’s union chapter leader Anne Looser insisted the school was undergoing a rebirth.
She said the arrival of new principal Rose LoBianco was starting to reap benefits and that the school needed support, not closure.
“We’ve created, and are creating, really strong programs,” she said, after the meeting. “We have at least three SUNY college credit courses and those courses will go away if those teachers aren’t here.
“Closing Lehman, giving it a new name and firing 50 percent of the staff while we’re in the middle of creating new students programs is really going to be detrimental to the school.”
Lehman Parents’ Association member and father-of-two Elvin Flores urged the crowd to continue their efforts to save the school. He also implored students to do their part and prepare themselves for the big-world politics.
“Study and work hard because this is the kind of nonsense that you’re going to have to deal with if you’re not prepared,” he said.
“You guys have to believe in yourselves because you know what? The Board of Education does not believe in you.”
The Panel for Educational Policy is expected to vote on the matter at its April 26 meeting.