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School Community and Local Politicians Criticize Plans to Relocate High School

January 17, 2010

PROTEST

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS WANT THEIR SCHOOL TO STAY EXACTLY WHERE IT IS (PHOTO: R. Thomas)

By REBECCA THOMAS

Passions ran high on Thursday night at a University Heights Secondary School parents meeting where over 650 parents, teachers and students met with representatives of the Department of Education and a senior vice president of Bronx Community College, Mary Coleman, to discuss the possible relocation of the school from its current site on the college’s campus. The proposed move would take place before the beginning of the next school year.

In December, the college asked the DOE to move the school so that it could use the Nichols Hall building for its own classes. The BCC student population has reached a historic high of almost 11,000 students this semester – 4000 more than this time last year – Coleman said at Thursday’s three-hour meeting, and it simply needs all the space it has.

But students, teachers and parents are angry about the move, which they say will disrupt the school’s academic success. They are also unhappy that they found out about the request only after it had been made, and worry about where the school might go.

Before the meeting, students marched across the campus from their school to the Gould Memorial library carrying hand-written signs and chanting. Later, speakers reiterated their belief that the location of the safe, accessible site on the campus encourages the students to do well academically and aspire to higher education. As many as 90 percent of University Heights students end up going to the BCC and other CUNY colleges, according to Deborah Harris, a former principal of the school.

Many also argued that since the school moved to the building in 1992, it has invested too much in the facilities to leave now. After moving in, the school lobbied the DOE and local politicians for the funds to carry out the renovations on the building that turned it into a fully functioning school. The funds provided, among other things, a new auditorium, a library, furnished labs, a music room and a tailored daycare center used by the children of the teenage mothers who complete their education at the school.

Coleman was sympathetic to the school’s arguments, pointing out that the college serves the same constituency as the school itself – 71 percent of BCC’s students are from the Bronx – but must ensure that it provides tuition-paying students with the facilities they require.

“We are the same people and the same family,” she said. “There is nothing that hurts worse that breaking up a family. This college has every intention of following University Heights wherever it will go. But my highest order of responsibility is to the mission, the faculty and staff and students of BCC.”

University Heights Secondary School

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS SECONDARY SCHOOL HAS BEEN LOCATED ON BCC'S CAMPUS SINCE 1987, AND IN THIS PARTICULAR BUILDING SINCE 1992 (PHOTO: R. Thomas)

Over the past week, the school has petitioned elected representatives including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Senator Pedro Espada Jr., Senator Jose Serrano, Assemblyman Nelson Castro and Councilman Fernando Cabrera for support to stay on the site. Groups of students hand-delivered 450 letters from members of the school to the offices of these officials.

“I have never seen so many parents and students fired up about a school,” Cabrera said at the meeting. “We complain that our parents don’t get involved. Here the parents get involved, the students get rated an A. Why is it that we have only one high school in our area and we have to move this one? I want this message to go all the way to the administration: This councilman is not happy about this.”

He echoed the school administration’s displeasure with the process by which the decision was being made, “It troubles me because elected officials were not informed, because parents had to find out through their children what was going on.”

Castro also voiced his support. “This is the only high school in my district. This is an important fight. I am with everybody who is willing to work or fight to keep the school here.”

At the end of the meeting, BCC and DOE representatives and the principal of the school, Hazel Joseph Roseboro, committed themselves to an open discussion about what will happen next. Cabrera vowed to organize a meeting with the Deputy Mayor for Education about options to prevent the relocation.

It is still unclear where the school will go if it moves. The DOE has said previously that the school would be housed in a DOE building in the area, an option which is unpopular with the school community because it fears that all the buildings in the area are already taken. 

“Moving this 23-year old school to an already overcrowded high-school will make it difficult for our students and our school to integrate its story,” said Carmen Seguinot, the PTA President. “We as parents demand that CUNY and the Department of Education find a way to rescue this school.”

Related article: BCC to Expel University Heights Secondary School

Comments

5 Responses to “School Community and Local Politicians Criticize Plans to Relocate High School”

  1. Roland Legiardi-Laura on January 18th, 2010 11:26 am

    Having just read Rebecca Thomas’ article above, a few additional points cry out to be made:
    1) This growth in attendance that Bronx Community College is claiming to be the single cause forcing it to expel University Heights High School is an unstable basis for a specious argument. Two years from now when the economy recovers, and students return to 4-year institutions, BCC will again become a ghost town. It is simply illogical to evict a successful high school for what is clearly only a temporary bump in enrollment.
    2) BCC is not efficiently using the space it now has. Many buildings and many classrooms sit empty or nearly empty because of poor planning, poor maintenance and bad scheduling. The successful educational culture at University Heights HS should not be sacrificed because the administration of BCC is near-sighted and verging on the incompetent. Let’s really examine the facts. As one UHHS student pointed out the other night (in a room that held more than 800 people, not the 650 stated above) BCC is claiming that they are going to have 4000 thousand new students to place. How are they possibly going to deal with those thousands by capturing a building that now barely handles 400—one tenth of their stated growth? And a current BCC student pointed out that he was perosnally aware of at least three buildings that were profoundly underutilized. An independent entity should be mandated to survey and analyze the campus and determine how best to handle an enlarging enrollment.
    3) It is an outrage to try and pit the students of BCC against University Heights HS as Vice-President Colman is obviously attempting to do. To argue that BCC must choose between either their “own” students or those of the High School, is an attempt to force a wedge between people who are basically all in the same boat. These “Sophie’s Choices” do not ever have to be made. BCC does not have to sacrifice one group of deserving kids in order to serve the other. Both can continue to be served well on a huge 56-acre campus, with thoughtful and humane planning.
    4) University Heights HS has been successful and prospered compared to many other High Schools in the area (3 consecutive A ratings from the Dept. of Ed., Millions of dollars in scholarships won annually by its students) for two very important reasons:
    A) Being on a college campus inspires youngsters to strive toward higher education and literally guarantees a superlative graduation rate and that the vast majority of its graduates go on to college.
    B) The campus is a safe haven in the most dangerous borough in New York City and the poorest urban county in the United States, The Bronx.
    Students don’t have to pass through metal detectors or be wanded when they enter their building. This fundamentally transforms the quality of their school experience—In other words, if you go to a place that feels like a jail you are more likely to behave like a prisoner than a scholar.
    5) The Department of Education must be held accountable and compelled to help solve this problem. They can do a couple of things. Work with the entire community to build a new state of the art high school building for University Heights on the BCC Campus. There is money available for new school construction and it is high time The Bronx got its fair share. Especially in a council district where there is only one High School—University Heights! They DOE step in work with BCC and UHHS to get maximum programmatic use out of Nicholls Hall. Right now the building is only used during normal school hours. What about evenings for the college students? What about weekends? This will be a good temporary solution while our new building is being built.
    6) The Teachers’ Union better stand up and be counted soon. Where are they? Many dedicated teachers have spent their entire careers working at UHHS. It is unconscionable to allow the city to squander the work of these dedicated and successful pedagogues who have labored for decades to build a strong school. Lack of action on the part of the union will not be tolerated by the rank and file.
    7) And finally, everyone should understand unequivocally that the University Heights High School Community—Parents, Students, Alums, Teachers, Staff and the many former students now attending BCC, made its intentions loud and clear, Thursday evening: We will negotiate, we want to negotiate in a public and transparent forum. We are willing to compromise and make accommodations. But we will not be moved!
    As Captain John Parker said to his small, vastly outnumbered band of Minutemen on Lexington Green facing off against the bigger, better armed, British Army on April, 19th 1776– “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” We all know who won that war.

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