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At Grady High, desperately seeking an audience and finding one

Students and teachers at William Grady Career and Technical High School aren’t waiting until next month’s closure hearing to share what they think of the city’s plan to close the school this summer.

Students organized a week of protest last month, and teachers joined them with a rally and candlelight visit outside the school on Wednesday. Evelyn Katz, an English teacher, said teachers began the rally just after school let out at 3:09 p.m. and were joined at 5 p.m. by students who had stayed late for tutoring.

The rally came just hours after the school received a visit from a top state official whose assessment could influence whether State Education Commissioner John King endorses the city’s “turnaround” plan.

Multiple people who work at the school said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, spent several hours at Grady Wednesday morning. They said she toured the school’s vocational shops, which include culinary arts and automotive repair.

Tisch declined to comment about her visit. In the past, she has visited at least two other schools that, like Grady, were at the time receiving federal funds to help them improve under a less aggressive process known as “transformation.” One of those schools, Washington Irving High School, is set to begin phasing out this summer. The other, Automotive High School, which Tisch called a “warehouse” for needy students, is also proposed for turnaround.

Katz said teachers and students are planning to rally outside the school every Wednesday until the plans are resolved. The local actions come on top of others aimed elsewhere in the city: Grady students joined a caravan of protesters trying to press members of the Panel for Educational Policy about the turnaround plans Wednesday, and many members of the Grady community are planning to turn out for a meeting about turnaround that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is holding next week.

The most recent edition of the Grady Times, the student-produced school newsletter, is chock full of commentary about the proposed turnaround. One piece explains the backstory of the week of student protest that took place in February. Another contains a history of the school’s namesake, a founder of vocational education in the city. And in a third, a student offers his own perspective on what Grady gives its students.

In a space for a message from the school’s principal — which Geraldine Maione typically fills with words of encouragement for her students and staff — there is only a brief block of text.

“You can transform, you can turnaround and reboot school buildings but you will never be able to do any of those things to the hearts and minds of the children we here at Grady have touched,” the box reads.