Monday, February 25, 2008

An Open Letter From the Jamaica HS Chapter

Jamaica High School UFT
167-01 Gothic Drive
Jamaica, NY 11432

February 11, 2008

Ms. Randi Weingarten
President United Federation of Teachers
52 Broadway
New York, NY 10004

Dear President Weingarten:

Jamaica High School is suffering close to one million dollars in budget cuts for the current spring semester. We have thirteen fewer teachers than we had in the fall. Our funding has been slashed because of declining enrollments caused mainly by the Department of Education and New York State wrongfully labeling us as an impact school and a persistently dangerous school because of misuse of data. We have been hit with a second punch due to the recent citywide budget cut. We can no longer function properly as a comprehensive high school and the DOE has reacted by forcing us to share our space with another school in the fall.

On Monday, January 28, 2008, the faculty and parents of Jamaica High School were surprised to hear that a College Board School would be placed inside of our building in September. We are only beginning to learn about the College Board’s vision for secondary education and we harbor no malice toward the program or its schools. However, to place a new separate school with its abundance of resources from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation on our premises while we are struggling with outlandish budget cuts from the New York City Department of Education is extremely unfair.

Jamaica High School was chartered in 1892. We have a 116 year history of which the staff and students are extremely proud. There are numerous distinguished alumni who have graduated from Jamaica High School. Gateway to Higher Learning, Academy of Finance, Law, Engineering and Computer Science Institute are educational programs that attract many fine students. We also do our best with many students who enter high school unprepared for the academic rigors of our challenging curriculum. In spite of this, it is quite common for even our students with the greatest needs to be successful at the high school level and fully prepared for higher education and beyond.

Most educators in this building feel as though we are links on a long chain that is Jamaica’s storied tradition. We believe we have been handed an almost sacred trust by the professionals and students who toiled here in the past to keep Jamaica moving ahead into the 21st century as a viable educational institution. However, our mission has become increasingly difficult mainly because of factors that are way beyond our control.

Commencing in 2003 there was a spike in reported disciplinary incidents in the school. At that time the administration started a zero-tolerance discipline policy that helped keep our hallways clear but it led to many more misdemeanor incidents being reported. Inevitably, suspensions and arrests increased. Subsequently, the Department of Education mis-labeled us a “priority school” and then an “impact school.” Inaccurate newspaper articles about the labels further tarnished our reputation. Our contesting the designations with the New York City Police Department and the Department of Education were to no avail. In the fall of 2007 the state misinterpreted our statistics to wrongfully label us a “persistently dangerous school,” a label that has had dire consequences for us.

In September the New York City Department of Education sent an official letter to the parent of every student in our school telling them Jamaica High School had been labeled “persistently dangerous” (though the school is not unsafe and never was) and offering to transfer their children out of our school. In the fall semester 173 parents took the opportunity to transfer their youngsters to other New York City schools. The Department of Education reacted, not by offering to help us to recruit students in order to preserve the integrity of Jamaica’s programs and ease overcrowding in neighboring schools, but by slashing our budget midyear, citing declining enrollments. As a result, we can no longer function properly as a comprehensive high school.

We now have eleven teachers who are in excess. Termed Absent Teacher Reserves (ATR’s) by the Department of Education, they are only permitted to cover for teachers who are out for the day, not teach a regular program.

On the first day of the spring semester, one of our teachers walked into an honors economics class of 39 students. Chairs from other classes had to be brought in to accommodate the students, and ultimately a number of students had to be dropped because there were too many students for one class. Meanwhile, a licensed social studies teacher (one of the ATR’s) is not teaching classes. Another social studies teacher is instructing music classes out-of-license, while the licensed music teacher (another ATR) has no classes to teach. The administration was compelled to close all but one of the swimming classes this term (though our pool is one of Jamaica High School’s great assets) because there is no money for the smaller classes swimming courses demand. We have been forced to slash innovative programs such as our two-teachers-in-a-class program for students having difficulty in math. The pupils are being short-changed in the classroom.

Other cuts we have suffered over the last few years include: the elimination of Summer Institute Pre-High School program for incoming Gateway students and the cancellation of the Advanced Placement government class as well as off-track classes for pupils who have failed a course and need to catch up. Also, classes outside the regular day are only available for graduating seniors. How can our students succeed when we cannot provide most students with what they need academically?

In addition, students are not offered the extracurricular choices that are often the hallmark of the high school experience. After school clubs are basically now volunteer activities since there is no money to pay for faculty advisors. The Odasete Dance Team, the Caribbean Club, the Spanish Honors Society, the Cheerleaders, the Bengali Club, and the Drama Club have all been dropped. The Step Team, the Animate Club, the Key Club, the Haitian Club, the International Club, the Teen Ambassadors, the Science Club and the Tennis Club are all supervised by teachers for free because there are insufficient funds to pay advisors for these programs. Teachers and other staff had to volunteer their time to set up and run our third annual Cardboard Boat Race where students apply what they have learned in physics class to build and race in boats in our swimming pool. Teachers volunteer for all of these activities because of their commitment to our students.

Furthermore, the budget for school secretaries has been cut; our secretarial staff has been reduced by attrition. The remaining secretaries are being overwhelmed with tasks that were once performed by a larger crew. Inevitably, services for students as well as staff deteriorate.

The Department of Education has reacted to our plight by bringing in hordes of armed police officers, school safety agents, surveillance cameras and metal detecting equipment for a school that does not have a weapons problem. To top it off we now learn that in September the DOE will be opening up a new College Board school at Jamaica High School with their own principal and staff.

The College Board School students will assuredly get every advantage that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Michael and Susan Dell Foundation have to offer while Jamaica’s traditional pupils will suffer with even more cuts as our enrollments decline and we are squeezed out of various wings of the building. Working under ever-worsening conditions, we will be blamed when our students fail to do well.

The College Board website indicates that their schools are unscreened, but will their new school take on special education pupils or students with limited English proficiency, as we do, when it starts in the fall? As the resources are provided to the new school, those in need of greatest help will mostly likely remain in the regular Jamaica High School.

Deprived of the resources we need to survive, we feel we are being set up to fail by being slowly suffocated by the DOE. How could we not fail when we are a comprehensive high school that cannot afford to run a comprehensive program?

We know that the UFT has taken a position opposing the horrific midyear budget cuts that have been imposed by the Mayor and Chancellor. The Union has our unqualified support in this battle. Our situation certainly can be highlighted to show how placing a school within this school with its own principal will compromise educational opportunities in this building. The students here deserve greater assistance, not greater competition for what limited resources there are.


The UFT Chapter Committee Jamaica High School

James Eterno Social Studies Department UFT Chapter Leader
Debbie Saal Math Department School Leadership Team Member
Gustavo Medina Science Department School Leadership Team Member
Dena Gordon Social Studies Department UFT Delegate
Tiffany Young English Department
Judy Reuben Guidance Department
Kathy Reynolds School Secretaries
Irma Segovia Second Language Department
Rose Slaymaker Physical Education Department
Calvin Whitfield Special Education Department


Anonymous said...

Good for you and your crew James, but somehow I can't help but feel I hear the sounds of giddiness at your situation over at UFT headquarters. I'm sure they would be happy to hear your school is closing and being re-orged. They'l likely see it as an opportunity to hopefully eliminate a thorn in their side. Good luck over there.

Got to go, there's the bell. Got to go pick up my test prep class! Yeah!!


Anonymous said...

I guess that large schools are quickly becoming endangered species in NYC DOE system. Why does Bloom-Klein believe that the solution is to create smaller schools? It is obvious to me that they do not care about equity in our schools, because they are willing to let the large schools collapse without offer them any real support.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't the UFT's 800lb gorilla attacking Bloom-Klein for allowing another of our large schools to fail? The is answer because they are too happy to get rid of a strong UFT chapter that isn't afraid of real trade unionism.

Anonymous said...


Why aren't you publicly attacking the closing of large schools? I know that the parents would be happy to stand with you against the school closings.

Additionally, why are you allowing our schools to become separate and unequal?

Please stop the decay of our large schools now!

Concerned about the future of public education for the masses.

Anonymous said...

A pity, another great school bits the dust. Previously it was Far Rockaway & Springfield Gardens, now Jamaica, next? The clock is ticking, can these schools outlast Klein & Bloomberg. I hope so.

Anonymous said...

It is sad to see that they are ATR's in the system that are available to teach a subject in your school and no use being made of this licensed individual. YOur school is being targted as being dangerous but yet and still students and teachers are working here everyday so that must say something that the reported "impact" status is proven to be an untruth. I say kudos to you James and your colleagues in your diligence to show the Board your excellence will prevail!

Anonymous said...

I had the same reaction as Unitymustgo after reading your letter.

Had it been sent to the DoE, you would have made a great case for them to close your school.

ed notes online said...

Whenever I bring up collaboration between Unity and Tweed on closing schools of opposition CL some ICE people say Randi has always been supportive. My argument with is that she is supportive with empty words, not deeds. The demo on March 19 should not just be about budget cuts but include the general attack on so many students as evidenced by this letter.

I would try to bring the as many people from Jamaica HS,including students, to the demo with signs to make that point.

But of course, on the day after, it will be business as usual at the UFT.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

Randy, Bloomberg and Klein need to check themselves before they look down at others. Randy, why are you attacking the same people who helped to put you and your team in the hot seat you are now in by not helping them? I guess that from where you are the large schools seem a failure but you have to stop and reconsider that some of these schools once housed several of our prominent people now in our leadership positions. Bloomberg and his team are depriving our youngers of a solid foundation and future when they take away their rights of being educated by some of our dedicated and talented teachers who only have these children's interst at heart. Where does the saying "The children are our future" stand when we they are being destroyed by uprooting them from familiar grounds and people they they have grown to know and to trust. Think about what you are doing when you make your decisions. SHAME ON YOU because the people trusted you to do right by them and and when they think you could be relied on you have pulled the rug from under them.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. It just ocurred to me to begin to compile a list of "prominent people" who have graduated from our large schools in the last 20 years, not 40 years or 50 years. Does anyone know anybody?

Anonymous said...

I worked in a small school before coming to Jamaica H. S. The small school did not have a library for two years, there was half a gym for sixty kids, classes were crowded, 34 plus, and students did not have the electives offered at Jamaica H. S.
JHS is still a good school. We have a fully equipped library with internet access, an active student government organization, many teams such as football, golf, bowling, basketball, track, swimming, academic teams such as debate and mock trial. Our science classes have fully operational labs. We have three computer labs and students are taught desktop publishing and computer graphics. These are options that a small school cannot afford. It is a fallacy that Levy is pushing that being in a small school is better than a big school. You have more administrators, less teachers and less support than a large school. Facilities are often shared with other schools. When I was teaching in the smaller school we had to move twice. Once we had a flood in our school and we were sent to a middle school where we were only allowed to use classrooms during periods when the teachers of the school were at lunch. The rest of the day we were in the auditorium. This went on for about a month. Large schools can work if we are given the same financial support and additional perks that mini schools are given.

Anonymous said...

That last comment says a whole lot. If only Klein and Bloomberg were listening.

Anonymous said...

All we are saying, is give us a chance.

Anonymous said...

Small schools are "supposedly" designed to offer students a choice of interests and careers such as High School for Computers and Technology, High School for Theatre, etc., throughout the entire city. It's sad because the variety of interests seem to be offered at Jamaica HS, and, used to be offered at many, if not all of the large high schools throughout NYC. High schools used to offer wonderful electives to give a taste of what, occupationally or hobby-wise, teens might like to continue after graduation or college. Photography, woodworking, auto-shop, fashion design and tailoring...All by the wayside for "specialty schools" and tests. Terrible.

Anonymous said...

Are you listening Mr. Klein?

Anonymous said...

Do you really think Randi cares??
How naive.

Anonymous said...

Jamaica's staff has absolutely nothing to lose and it's great that so many are willing to speak out.

Anonymous said...

Instead of closing schools and replacing them with smaller schools, the DOE should be adding resources and helping the students already at Jamaica. The DOE acts as if the kids are products. The money should be added to enrich the programs already used, available, and willing to be taught.
No bid contracts, $80 million programs that don't work and no accountability to the kids or parents.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no reason for Jamaica to be phased out. There is a strong school spirit, a sense of belonging and a school with a distinguished track record. The students are always the ones to loose out. 10 years from now will there be a school to look back at without the name changing to fit the stats.

Anonymous said...

First they overcrowd the school. Then they transfer in students at risk. The suspensions go up to set the tone and then the DOE says the school is overcrowded and dangerous. IT takes the DOE only two years to destroy a school. How can we get rid of certified teachers at top pay?????

Anonymous said...

It's funny, Spitzer signs off on 55/25 days ago and still nothing on any ICE site/blog.

Very good guys, way to report the important stuff.

Anonymous said...

About the the last comment 55/25. This is good for a few senior teachers. How about the rest?? How about the ones that are ATRS for 2 years already and do not know if they are going to have a job in the future? What this Union is doing is disgusting. Closing large schools like Jamaica HS. is a crime. Then the DOE will re open with 22 or 23 year olds with no experience?? What will happen with all these excellent teachers that work at jamica now? 50% will be rehired and the rest will became ATRS in different schools. Randy wake up!! Why are you allowing the destruction of the education in NYC??
Two years ago my school was the first school that become reorganized. What did Randi do for the teachers? NOTHING -- Marvin Riskin was the Borough Rep. at that time. Where is he now?? In a better job. Where are the teachers from that school?? They are ATRS4EVER. WHERE IS THE UNION TO REPRESENT THE TEACHERS??

Anonymous said...

Marvin Reiskin has never been a Borough Rep.

Why not try and get your facts right?

Is it because ICE doesn't put too much into the facts?

Anonymous said...

Whatever Marvin Riskin was in District 20.... I bet I did not really not his position because he was always siting down and doing nothing. But he was a big UFT SOMETHING, DOING NOTHING IN DISTRICT 20. These are better facts.

Anonymous said...

Again you make silly comments.

Are you sure you aren't a 10 year old? Surely a teacher should do better than "I bet I did not really not his position because he was always siting down and doing nothing."

Your first post is pretty horrible too. You must be ICE leadership.

Anonymous said...

You guys who are expecting Randi to help should look at CNN. I saw Randi on TV last night standing next to Chelsea Clinton somewhere on the campaign trail. You think Randi cares about Jamaica High School? It seems to me she's more interested in electing Hillary than helping her members.

The Unity person should answer the letter and say what Unity will do to support Jamaica High School. He can't answer that one because if he did it would be one word: nothing.

Anonymous said...

To 724 p.m. last night I have news for you. The leader of the union is spending more time working for Hillary than helping the members of the UFT.

Anonymous said...

Jamaica High School is an excellent educational institution. However it is being treated unfairly by higher ups (who have their own political agenda). Ms. Weingarten has been ineffective (to say the least) in dealing with the Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein. When will the restructing of schools ever going to stop?

Anonymous said...

Sad really sad but Randi is with Hillary so don't expect her to help.

Anonymous said...

Keep fighting Jamaica.

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Anonymous said...

Having been a graduate of JHS way back in 1968, is hurts me to hear about the plight of the school.

There was a program called College Discovery back in the late 1960's that monitored a group of low income minority students who did not have great academic scores but showed potential. This group was integrated into the regular JHS experience and has produced successful lawyers, businessmen, entertainers, etc. Perhaps instead of creating a seperate school more of an integrated approach (like CD) could be implemented. JHS gave me and many others the opportunity to grow well beyond our youthful perspectives.

What are the parents of JHS students saying about this situation? Ultimately they are the ones that should lead the charge against this situation.

Keep up the fight and continue to share the information about this very challenging situation.

Anonymous said...

I spoke to the PTA last evening and they were very supportive of our efforts to save Jamaica High School as we know it.

I started teaching during the last years of the College Discovery program. I agree that these are the types of programs we need.

James Eterno