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Mixed schedule signals for families at schools slated for closure

A scheduling conflict has parents at some “turnaround” schools miffed that they’re being asked to be in two places at the same time.

The Department of Education is hosting four meetings this week for parents whose children attend the city’s lowest-performing schools under federal accountability laws. The borough-wide meetings are intended to help parents learn about options for transferring out of their current schools through No Child Left Behind’s “Public School Choice Program.”

But the department is also hosting public hearings about proposed school closures at the same time, putting families who wanted to attend both events in a difficult spot. At Monday night’s hearing for August Martin High School in Jamaica, Queens, parents said they felt conflicted about which meeting to attend after receiving a postcard advertising the transfer meeting over spring break and phone messages about the closure hearing this week.

“I didn’t know which meeting was more important,” said Helese Crawford, whose husband attended the Queens transfer meeting at John Adams High School, about three miles down road, at the same time as the August Martin meeting. “Thankfully, because we’re together, we were able to go to both.”

Laura Brown said she had planned to attend the transfer meeting to learn about options for her ninth-grade daughter — but then she drove by August Martin and recognized other parents and teachers outside the school.

“I saw that everybody was here and I thought they cancelled the other one,” she said.

Others who attended the meeting said they thought there were more sinister reasons for the double-booking.

“I believe it was sabotage,” said Cleavon Evans, president of the school’s alumni association. Evans first confronted Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg about the scheduling conflict at the end of the hearing and accused the DOE of intentionally hosting the meeting to muffle opposition at the hearing.

Sternberg said he wasn’t aware of the conflicting event but said he would work with parents to make sure they were given access to information from both meetings.

About 100 people attended the hearing for August Martin, a career and technical school that opened in 1971 and is named after the former Tuskegee airman and first African American commercial airline pilot.

About 300 students are enrolled in the school’s aviation program, which is the only city school program that lets students take solo flights and, in some cases, earn a private pilot license as part of graduation. The program has produced dozens of professionals working in aviation, including the general manager of the Newark Airport and a director of security at John F. Kennedy Airport.

The aviation program would return after the school reopens with a new name, new principal, and new staff next year, according to the Educational Impact Statement the city released about the turnaround plan. At Monday’s hearing, Sternberg repeatedly promised that the program would remain intact, thought it wasn’t enough to quell some concerns.

“They’ve promised things in the past that they’ve gone back on,” said Ricky Davis, a pilot and the school’s aeronautics instructor.

Patrick Johnson, a senior who is one of two dozen aviation students who flies on a weekly basis, wore his pilot stripes to the hearing and said that he worried that closure would tarnish August Martin’s legacy as a pioneering professional school for black students.

“It’s a disrespect to August Martin to take his name off this school,” Davis said.

Sternberg said that a new school name would be voted on by the school’s new school leadership team but that it could retain the name “August Martin” in its title.

Sixty-seven percent of August Martin’s seniors graduated last year, giving the school a four-year graduation rate several points above the city average. Supporters of the school said that figure was proof that the turnaround plan was not motivated by concern for the school’s students.

“This is about a mayor who doesn’t believe in humans, got into a fight with the union, lost, and is now taking his revenge out on schools,” said Leo Casey, a vice president of the United Federation of Teachers.

But Sternberg said the graduation rate masked more troubling numbers. Of the 421 students who entered the school in 2007, just 157 graduated four years later, he said. That means that as many students transferred out of the school or the system during the four years as graduated after them.

Plus, August Martin has one of the lowest college readiness rates of the 23 high schools the city proposed to close in January: Just 3 percent of last year’s graduates were college ready, according to the city’s metrics.

“We have to think about the students who didn’t make it through,” Sternberg said.

Another scheduling conflict is bound to occur on Wednesday, when the city hosts a school transfer meeting in Brooklyn at the same time as a closure hearing for Bushwick Community High School. Department officials did not respond to requests for comment about the double-booking.

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