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Small but raucous crowd rallies for school set to close outright

When senior Omar Herara ranked Academy of Business and Community Development as one of his top high school choices four years ago, he admits he didn’t know it was an all-boys school or much else about it either.

“At first, it was an accident,” Herara said. “I chose it because it had ‘business’ in the name.”

Herara, who wants to become an entrepreneur, said the decision turned out to be serendipitous. At a hearing on the school’s future Tuesday evening, he said he now viewed the school with a sense of pride.

“I hope to come back and visit ABCD when I graduate,” said Herara, who will study business management at Monroe College in New Rochelle in the fall.

That prospect looks increasingly bleak. Herara is the only senior who is on pace to graduate this year, one of several reasons that the Department of Education is taking the unusual step to completely shutter the ABCD middle and high schools at the end of the school year. Most schools are phased out, one year at a time, but officials said that low enrollment — coupled with poor academic performance — made it virtually impossible to survive on the system’s funding formula, which allocates money on a per-pupil basis.

Herara is one of 16 students in the senior class and just 110 students in the high school, which opened in 2008. Demand at the middle school is also low. Just 5 percent of District 13 students selected the school as their first choice, and 29 percent ranked it in their top three, according to city statistics.

Dozens of the students who did choose ABCD — joined by teachers, parents and activist groups — attended the hearing to protest the plan and speak out in defense of the school. An advertised plan in which the school’s advocates would block city officials from entering didn’t materialize, but expressions of support were forceful nonetheless.

“It’s like a brotherhood here,” said Mark Hepburn, a senior who began as a sixth-grader when the middle school opened in 2005. “Everybody knows everybody else.”

Terms like “family” and “brotherhood” were repeated often by supporters on Tuesday. They said the school was safer than the Bedford-Stuyvesant streets that surround it and that many of the boys leave behind troubled personal lives when they come through the doors each day.

“We get a lot of students who have not been accepted to other schools, the kids out of shelters, in foster care, who have been kicked out of schools,” said Sonya Rivera, a founding teacher. “We get the kids that no one else wants and that’s okay.”

Rivera and other teachers did not deny that the school struggled and needed to improve. The school’s 86 percent attendance rate is among the city’s lowest and just 19 percent of middle schools passed the state’s reading test. That number was especially low considering that just 3 percent of ABCD students were classified as English language learners.

Teachers challenged the city’s claim that the school had received the support it required to improve. A fact sheet distributed by department officials last night stated that the DOE “offered numerous supports” that included training and coaching services for school leaders, teachers, and students.

“The DOE education impact statement lists a bunch of generic resources it says ABCD received to improve,” said Charisse Nelson, a teacher. “I would love to not only see the dates the resources were received but also the invoices, as I can not speak to a lot of the generic support listed in the EIS.”

Nelson also said that the school had been destabilized by being moved among five different support networks in six years of operation.

In interviews, teachers and students said the school had also experienced internal instability. The founding principal, Clyde Cole, was replaced in 2010 by Simone McIntosh, who was at the meeting but declined to comment. High teacher turnover required McIntosh to replace half of the school’s staff this year, the teachers and students said.

The protesters, which included people affiliated with the Alliance for Quality Education and the Occupy the DOE movement, chanted and drowned out the moderator and Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson for nearly 20 minutes during their opening remarks. They would have kept it going, too, had the moderator not interrupted them and pointed out that the next speaker, David Goldsmith of the CEC 13, was speaking in support of ABCD.

ABCD is one of 11 schools slated to close that the city opened during the Bloomberg administration. In the last year, Bloomberg has said the city would invest in some schools that serve black and Latino young men — the precise population ABCD enrolls.

“You say you want to help young black and Latino men?” Rivera said during the hearing. “Use our school as a laboratory.”

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