Sunday, July 06, 2014


George Vescey is one of the distinguished graduates of Jamaica High School.  Vescey is a legendary NY Times sports columnist who also writes a blog.  Last week he gave space on his blog to Jamaica Class of 1994 graduate Kathy Forrestal to write about the last graduation

Comments have been pouring in from the alumni spanning several generations.  Vescey takes the time to respond to virtually all of them and some of the replies are quite intriguing including responses to the two comments printed below where Vescey describes so called "school reform" in some of the harshest terms I have ever seen.  I don't think Vescey is trivializing what Pol Pot did in Cambodia when in power in the 1970s by comparing American school closing policy to some of his goals. 

We have seen in history that attempts to wipe out the past don't succeed and school closings are definitely an attempt eviscerate history and start at the year zero.  Veteran teachers even get sent for re-education (the Absent Teacher Reserve pool) when schools are closed.  Most of their rights and dignity are taken away or they are just terminated (Chicago, DC model).  Students have to travel all over the city to find new schools.

The brutality of school closing is nothing compared to what was done in Cambodia in the 1970s, or during the French Revolution Reign of Terror, or the Cultural Revolution in China but on a very small scale, school reform follows these models of trying to do away with history.

Wally Schwartz
07/03/2014 10:06pm
Who killed Jamaica High? Who killed the Brooklyn Dodgers? The simple answers: Michael Bloomberg; Walter O'Malley.

 I can't say I never liked either Michael Bloomberg or Walter O'Malley. Some of the things each of them did, I liked, a lot. But for just one thing each one did, and we all know what that is, I came to hate them, a lot. 57 years ago, the Brooklyn Dodgers, after a long good run, left Brooklyn, and for that one thing, I, like many others, came to hate Walter O'Malley. Years later, I thought more about it and then I read Michael Shapiro's The Last Good Season, and I came to appreciate that maybe O'Malley wasn't the real or the only villain in the story: the people who stopped supporting the Brooklyn Dodgers were villains, too. Granted, Brooklyn's neighborhoods changed, but the old Brooklynites ran away to build new homes in the suburbs, watched the games on TV, stopped coming to the old ballpark and stopped purchasing the product. It's the same with a television show where after a while the fans stop watching the soap opera or buying the soapsuds. And there are often many reasons why that happens, some obvious, others more subtle.

 With our beloved Jamaica High--and I can say with pride that no boy or girl, woman or man, loved Jamaica High more than you or I did--there were many reasons why the old institution went out of business. We didn't need to prove our devotion or dedication, to ourselves or anyone else, but some of us came back often and again over the years, to speak with students, watch basketball games, present awards, meet with principals, plan or attend reunions in the gym, visit teachers or coaches, give out money we collected, attend meetings aimed at saving Jamaica High, or just to drive by, ponder and appreciate what our alma mater did to improve our lives and those of so many thousands of others like or unlike ourselves. We didn't only think or care about the 8:40 to 3:20 PM students who went to class with us from September to June. Beginning back in the late 19th century, about the same time the Brooklyn Dodgers were created, thousands, including your mother and my sister, traveled from one end of Queens or the other by railroad, subway, bus or foot to attend day, evening or summer session at Jamaica. Then, in 1955, the year before we graduated, Van Buren High arose. Next came Hillcrest, the new Edison down the block, Cardozo and Francis Lewis, and too many of the people from Jamaica Estates and other surrounding neighborhoods stopped buying the product and stopped supporting the school or sending their kids to Jamaica High. That was their business, and they each had their reasons, but it was once their school as well as ours.

And, like the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were born about the same time but closed their doors more than half a century earlier, Jamaica High, too, has ceased to operate, although, unlike Ebbets Field, its portals, magnificent edifice and campus will remain open to educate present and future generations. We grieve together with all those who also grieve for the closing of Jamaica High, but how many who pine today cared enough to attend a rally, sign a petition, write a column, make a donation to the union, call an activist, encourage a teacher, hold up a sign or send a kid to Jamaica? They might say it wouldn't have made a difference, and maybe it wouldn't have. But maybe, just maybe, it would have.
George Vecsey
07/04/2014 8:35am

Chief, Jamaica was up against a trend. "They" can do it better by eliminating the past. That's what Pol Pot said, too.
You did what you could. GV
Thor A. Larsen 
07/04/2014 3:04pm
As a classmate with George and Wally among 650+ graduates in 1956, I found that when I went on to Queens College and Columbia University, the foundation I had received at Jamaica High was either equivalent or superior to any of my college classmates. When my children went to high school upstate, I realized again, that the high school education I received at Jamaica High was vastly superior. But, Jamaica High School was much more than a ‘knowledge factory’. The commitment of most of the teachers to the success of their students was very evident. The bonding of classmates remained after leaving Jamaica High School as evident today as some of us have remained connected for many years and still meet once a year. Jamaica High was NOT a ‘knowledge factory’ but a close, supportive community of learning and maturing. From relatively recent reporting by George, it was clear Jamaica High was remained a superior high school. The blame for the destruction of this fine institution lies squarely with incompetent senior school administrators and city officials who simply do not understand how schools can and should educate their youth.
George Vecsey
07/04/2014 3:26pm

Thor, I would add that my experience was mostly visiting honors classes and seeing the world through the eyes of kids headed toward Syracuse, Hunter, Boston Univ., Haverford, city schools and the military...motivated kids from all over the world. I can't speak for all the classes, and clearly there were issues outside. But to arbitrarily send kids scrambling all over the city to find other schools sounds insane. Pol Pot or Mao Tse Tung, turning people out into the countryside. GV

Vescey does not wish the new schools anything but the best as he makes clear in this reply.
George Vecsey
07/05/2014 9:13am

I just want to add that I make no judgments about the educators and systems in the four mini schools in four corners of the great Jamaica building. They may indeed work for young people, and I hope they do. But the city destroyed a piece of history, because of its own failure. I wish only the best for the schools within those walls. GV

Also, we have more local press as the Queens Chronicle has a story on Jamaica's final graduation.

Jamaica salutatorian Sarah Kissoon is quoted in a Chalkbeat piece that is mainly about Columbus High School's final graduation.


Anonymous said...

Schools like Cambodian killing fields. Sad but a strangely accurate analogy.

Anonymous said...

Why not get this guy who works for the times to write up something in the times newspapers about what is happening and how our new mayor is just standing by and doing nothing. We need to get our stories in the news papers and we need a favorable writer like this guy.

Anonymous said...

He already has and so did Times columnist Mike Winerip for years. Vescey is mostly retired these days.