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Co-location woes come to John Dewey High School

Over the past two years, the students and staff of John Dewey High School were rocked by a hurricane, threatened with a shutdown and now face the proposed co-location of a new public high school in their building.

Hundreds of members of the John Dewey “family” came to a public hearing regarding the proposed co-location of a new high school, only known as 21K768, in their building, the evening of Wednesday, October 23. The application is being submitted by the Department of Education. Although District 21’s Community Education Council has no jurisdiction over high schools, members hosted the hearing in support of the high school community.

According to the application, the co-location would begin in the 2014-2015 school year with 105 to 119 ninth graders. Each year another grade will be added until it reaches full size in 2017. Students will be admitted using the high school admissions method.

The DOE contends that Dewey’s building is at 68 percent capacity, meaning that it “has space to accommodate additional students” and that Dewey enrollment will “stabilize below the projected amount.” The DOE will use funding to create six additional classrooms.

Over 90 speakers signed up to testify, including current Dewey students and alumni.

Acting Principal Kathleen Elvin said that she was tired of her school getting the run-around from the DOE.

“It’s nice to see that we don’t look too underutilized this evening,” Elvin said to a jam-packed auditorium, contending that her building is not underutilized and that the school has been “caught in a series of policies that made it hard for families to choose Dewey as a school.”

Dewey was excluded from the DOE’s high school handbook, so parents and students had no way of knowing that it was an option.

“Guidance counselors would not let families apply because they truly believed that we closed,” Elvin explained.

In addition, Elvin noted that the DOE “severely under-projected enrollment” at Dewey. Last year, there were 250 more students than the school had been funded for. This year, there are 330.

“We are getting 20 percent less [funding] than we are entitled to. I wonder if there is any school in the city as underfunded as Dewey,” she said.

Dewey offers 13 Advanced Placement courses, and has a robotics program, three new theater and art programs and a pre-med program, plus 450 English Language Learner (ELL) students.

The school was also rocked by Sandy. Due to severe damage to the building, students and staff were re-assigned to three other high schools in the area. One teacher lost her home and temporarily had to live with another for a couple of months.

“It completely destroyed our electrical system. Custodians worked hard around the clock to fix the damage,” Elvin said. “Now, the work is not finished. It’s heartbreaking to see funding to a new school when repairs to Dewey are still not complete.”

Martin Haber, a teacher of 30 years at Dewey and the school’s United Federation of Teachers representative, contended that “everyone has been through every type of abomination you can hear of. My colleagues here today and these students are my heroes. You must all not bow down to the DOE.”

Two Dewey students – who began their lives in this country at the school – sang its praises.

“Four years ago, when I came here from Saudi Arabia, I was intimidated. But I was welcomed with open arms, truly,” said senior Asra Rashid, adding that she is a member of the Academy of Finance, the first school of its kind in the entire country, which is now a national program. “My only wish is that John Dewey High School students can feel welcome the way I did on my first day.”

Junior Mohammad Zafar came from Pakistan three years ago.

“This is my family. They supported me when I didn’t know a single word of English,” he said.

Those who testified against the co-location included CEC 21 President Heather Fiorica; Marianne Russo, the District 21 representative to the Citywide Council of High Schools; State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblymembers Steven Cymbrowitz and Bill Colton; Councilmember Domenic Recchia; Mark Treyger, who is poised to be the next councilmember of District 47; and Brian Gotlieb, chair of Community Board 13’s Education, Library and Youth Services committee.

The Panel for Education Policy will vote on the co-location on Wednesday, October 30 at 6 p.m. at Prospect Heights High School, located at 883 Classon Avenue.

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