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Spring break is no time to rest for protesting transfer school

New York City schools are closed this week, but that didn’t stop students and teachers from showing up at their transfer school in Bushwick this afternoon.

The group was joined by U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez to protest the planned closure of Bushwick Community High School, a school they say was unfairly dragged into the city’s newest effort to reform low-rated schools.

BCHS landed on the state’s persistently lowest-achieving list because just 25 percent of its students graduate within six years, but supporters say graduation rates are a misguided way to measure the school’s performance.

The school exclusively enrolls students who have already dropped out of traditional high schools and spent long stints out of the school system. Since many of the students who enroll at BCHS are 17 or older, they are rarely in a position to graduate within six years of entering high school.

Today’s protest was not the first display of opposition that the school has mounted. In January, teachers at the school sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg asking that he remove BCHS from his list of planned closures.

BCHS’s placement on the PLA list is the illogical conclusion of a crude, one-size-fits all accountability system. As a transfer school, BCHS is designed to be part of the solution for struggling students in the city, but the current accountability metrics punish us for working with our students while allowing the source of their failures to go undetected.

But teachers said the student turnout this afternoon was a testament to their sense of loyalty to the school.

“At a time when most students are home enjoying their Spring break, ours are out here fighting for the school,” said Jesus Gonzalez, an organizer with Make the Road New York, which with today’s protest.

At around the same time as the protest, state education officials testified that they largely agreed with the teachers at BCHS. Ira Schwartz said today at an Assembly hearing that New York State “worked vigorously” in recent months to establish a provision in its No Child Left Behind waiver application that would allow transfers schools such as BCHS greater lenience on graduation rates compared to traditional high schools.

The waiver still needs to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education and wouldn’t take effect until the next school year, meaning BCHS can only be spared if the city Department of Education removes them from the list.

A public hearing about the school closure plan is scheduled for next Wednesday.

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