To Whom it May Concern,
I write not only in defense of my Alma matter, but to take a stand against the injustices that the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is committing on both our children and our communities. I firmly believe it is an issue when the leadership that is supposed to be looking out for the needs and interests of people in this city don't answer emails or telephone calls. If your life is so encompassed with more important aspects I think you should reconsider your career. Start listening and caring about what people like myself have to say, for this is a democracy not a dictatorship.
As a proud graduate of Jamaica High School, I am currently in my first year at Adelphi University double majoring in International Studies and Adolescent Education. I return to Jamaica High School at least once a week, for it is regarded by myself and many as our home away from home. It is the place that instilled within us the strong morals and values of education and learning. For that I am eternally grateful to it's supportive teachers, staff and administration.
It was Albert Shanker that once said, “Some of our teachers are incredible, some of them are quite good and some of them should not be teaching.” Jamaica High School is definitely a school full of the most incredible educators that try their utmost best to teach their students. To phase out Jamaica High School is almost an insult to them and their hard work. They have strived to not only help students understand the subject matter, but express the value of education and invest in their students education. They do not have the “I'm here for a paycheck” attitude. The quality of our teachers is what in the Chancellor's words is responsible for the tone of a school.
On Wednesday December 16th, 2009 a rally was held at Jamaica High School. Hundreds of students, staff and alumni all alike came out to vouch for and support their home. What my mind can not fathom, is despite the angry comments and statements given by people that know this school and community the most, is why is this proposal still in consideration? It is the plan of the Mayor and Chancellor that only seem to view the business and legal perspective of the matter. Quite frankly, I believe that our schools only fail because the NYCDOE handicaps them into failure.
If more and more students are suffering, why would you take away more funding? It makes little or no sense. The numbers show it. At a typical public high school in New York City, $17,696 is spent per student. At Jamaica, only $15,691 is allotted per pupil. Our resources and materials are in poor standing only because it has been allowed to turn this way. Instead, money has been flowing to create small new high schools which simply can not reach the needs of students.
One of these small schools is Queens Collegiate, a College Board School that has invaded the Jamaica High School campus. These students receive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. They have state of the art equipment and technology. Jamaica High School students however, suffer from an academic apartheid. In decades after Brown v. The Board of Education, equal education opportunities are supposed to be at our doorstep. Instead, Jamaica High School continues to suffer and be neglected by the NYCDOE.
I have seen Jamaica HS transform into a building of 2,500 to nearly 1,500. This was because the NYCDOE sent out letters deeming it as “persistently dangerous.” In other reports and statements it has been called “dysfunctional and non-performing.” This again is an insult to every student, teacher and administrative official that has walked the halls of that beautiful building. When we got off the “persistently dangerous” list, where was the letter notifying parents about that?
Jamaica High School is the centerpiece of the largest community in Queens with over 200,000 people. It is a part of the most diverse county in the nation with 73% of the residents as non-white. Nearly 104,000 are Black-with either rich roots in this nation or hailing from various parts of the Caribbean and as far as Africa. Almost 44,000 are Hispanic, and 24,000 are Asian, an estimated 18,000 of those from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in direct proximity of the school building. They line the streets of Hillside Avenue flowing from block to block in unity and diversity. Why is it that these are always the communities considered as “high-needs?” The blatant truth is that this is an issue of demographics, and the failure of the NYCDOE to understand how to meet the needs of minorities in city schools.
Jamaica High School is a comprehensive learning environment that give students exposure to many different programs and courses. Small schools won't do that, but instead force a child into a subject matter they may not necessarily like. A school of Jamaica's size is ideal for the mayor's plan for small academies. However, it is ridiculous to envision three, four or even more schools housed in a building with separate principals, assistant principals and administrations. A New York City School Principal makes close to $150,000 and an assistant principal makes over $100,000. I am not prepared to see our hard earned tax dollars go to waste. The solution is to create the programs foreseen under the existing Jamaica High School; under a single leadership. The students should be broken into academies but still have flexibility to explore areas out of their interests.
It is the DOE Office of Portfolio and Plannings mission to “strive to create a portfolio of schools and to meet the needs of the diverse student body in this city.” Why is there a need to create schools? Why can't we work with the schools we have? If starting fresh is the thing to do maybe we should consider that with the Education Department's leadership. From our interaction on December 16th, 2009 it is my understanding that they really don't care what anyone has to say. When members of the panel are on their blackberry's and chatting with one another how do they expect to gain the respect of the audience? These are people with experience in the charter school environment. Of course, they will only think that way. They spoke as if this proposal was already etched in stone, forgetting to mention the creation of “28Q325” and “28Q328” as mentioned in the Amended Public Notice. There needs to be an open minded approach towards this situation.
It was stated that the community would have a say in the new schools. On December 16th, we spoke out. We don't want a say in new schools and don't want new schools for that matter. We want our school to remain alive, and the New York City Department of Education to accept responsibility for its “failure” in the past. Just because something isn't working how you want it to, you simply just don't “throw it away,” you work to fix it. Closing Jamaica HS would only reflect the epic failure of the NYCDOE under mayoral control in the past eight years. I hope that a decision that best reaches the needs of this community is reached and understood by the city so that it, and our children can prosper in this flourishing area of Jamaica, Queens in the future.
-Reaz N. Khan