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Shrugs, sadness as Brandeis High School learns it will be closed

Few were surprised today when Department of Education officials descended on the Upper West Side’s Louis Brandeis High School to inform staff that the long-struggling school has been slated to close.

For years, the school has been among the lowest-performing in the city, with a four-year graduation rate of just 33 percent. This year Brandeis received a D on its DOE progress report, used to evaluate how much students are improving.

By the time teachers and staff gathered today in the school’s basement auditorium for a 3 p.m. meeting, most appeared to know why they were there. One teacher told me that rumors had spread through the building all afternoon. “There’s been talking ever since we had gotten our progress report,” said another teacher, Tara Bernard, a speech pathologist who has worked at the school for four years.

“We’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for years,” said another teacher as he left the building.

But some students said they thought the school was improving. A ninth-grader told me he heard the school had problems, but he hadn’t experienced them. And an older student said the school had fewer fights than in the past. Bernard, the speech pathologist, said the school had been relatively stable in her four years working there.

“The school has made some incremental improvements, particularly around safety,” Melody Meyer, a schools spokeswoman, said. But ultimately the chancellor determined that the building “needs a real structural change,” she said.

Meyer said the DOE waited until after last week’s Regents exams to announce the “potentially distracting” news. The school will not be permitted to accept any ninth-graders this fall and will close its doors for good when it graduates its last class in 2012.

Small schools will open in place of Brandeis, starting with three this fall. Two high schools, the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers and the Global Learning Collaborative, will open with ninth grades. The third school, Innovation Diploma Plus, will be a transfer school for students who have fallen behind and are at risk of dropping out.

Meyer said officials selected the new schools to appeal to current Brandeis students, rather than the demands of the Upper West Side. Brandeis has many students who are not on track to graduate, and a large portion of its students travel from the Bronx, Washington Heights, and Brooklyn. As Brandeis phases out of existence, more schools are likely to open in the building. Meyer said the local community on the Upper West Side might get a say in conceiving those schools.

Brandeis is the latest in a string of District 3 schools to be slated for closure this year. It’s across the street from another building that has played a role in the district’s space drama this year: PS 9, which also houses the Anderson School, a citywide gifted program. This summer, Anderson is set to move several blocks south, to the building that currently houses another school whose closure was announced this year. Another school, the Center School, will relocate into its space across the street from Brandeis; last fall, the Center School protested against the planned move.

Several Anderson parents and a third-grader said having Brandeis across the street had not affected them.

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