Fast Track to Oblivion For FRHS?

April 18, 2005

Below are two articles that appeared in the Rockaway Wave newspaper last week.  No matter which side of the issue you allign yourself with, you do have an opportunity to be heard.  Please write to either or both of the following and let your feelings be known.

City Councilman James Sanders
21-23 Birdsall Ave.
Far Rockaway, New York

Councilman Joe Addabbo
92-03 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Rockaway Beach, New York

FRHS On ‘Fast Track’ for Reorganization
Half Of Staff To Go, Four Schools To Come
By Howard Schwach

Far Rockaway High School, which first opened its doors to Rockaway students in 1897, faces Department of Education (DOE) reorganization in September that would see the school broken into four smaller parts and more than half of its present teachers reassigned to other buildings.

While many public high schools that have been reorganized over the past several years have been given new names as well as new programs, it is not clear whether that is going to be the fate of Far Rockaway High School as well.  “Far Rockaway High School will be redesigned in September because it has been failing for years and is a School Under Register Review SURR),” a Department of Education Spokesperson told The Wave this week. “It is not, however, going to be renamed.”

Sources close to the school, however, say that the plans include renaming the school to more closely represent the new organization and to “wipe out the poor reputation the school has had over the past decade.”  The high school will reportedly be broken into four smaller “learning communities,” around a theme that will include vocational as well as academic programs, according to a source close to the school, who asked not to be named.

Teachers at the school, many of whom are at risk of being transferred involuntarily under a reorganization plan, first heard of the plan on Monday, Aril 4, at a hastily-called after school meeting.
“Phyllis Marino, our Local Instructional Supervisor, called us together to tell us that the school had officially been put on the reorganization fast track,” one teacher said. “The rhetoric was that [Region Five] did not want to do this to us, but that the state was insisting.”  Ray Taruskin, the school’s United Federation of Teachers Chapter Chairman, says that the teachers were given no plan, nothing in writing.  “We are so frustrated about this,” Taruskin says. “Teachers are walking around like zombies, trying to find new places to go. They are applying for school-based option (SBO) transfers, waiting for the transfer list to come out. They are scared.”

Under Department of Education guidelines, half of the teachers presently at the school could be reassigned after an application process is completed.  “All of the teachers who want to stay at the school must apply,” Taruskin says. “Half of them may be rehired, but there is no surety that anybody will be rehired.”  Taruskin feels that the teachers are being unfairly targeted and believes that it is not the teacher’s fault that the school is on the SURR list.  “There are a lot of factors that make up a failing school. We had open school day recently,” he said, “and 141 parents showed up for the evening conferences, only 10 for the daytime conferences.”  “Where is parental accountability in all of this,” the UFT chair asks.

A source close to the school told The Wave that the curriculum at the new learning communities would include health careers and other “vocational subjects.”  Taruskin says that he heard the same.
“We are going back to the time where there were vocational and commercial diplomas as well as Regents or academic diplomas,” he says. “Back to the shops.”  He adds that all of the shops with the exception of one wood shop were closed over past years. All of the tools and equipment are gone. At one time, the school had one of the most successful auto shop programs in the city. Several years ago, the school’s principal closed the program and all of the tools and equipment were given away, the school source says.

The reorganization process is expected to begin this month, with the new four learning communities opening their doors in September.

‘Fast Track’ To Oblivion For FRHS?

On April 4, 2005 the teachers at Far Rockaway High School were working on their staff development day activities when they were all called together in the school’s auditorium, an unusual occurrence. There, they were addressed by the school’s Local Instructional Supervisor (LIS), Phyllis Marino. They were told by Marino that the state had placed the school on “a reorganization fast track.”

Reorganization has been used in many New York City High Schools to close the building, reassign half of its teachers and administrators and then to reopen under a new organization and a new name. When we asked the Department of Education recently whether reorganization was in the cards for FRHS, Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin issued a statement through the DOE’s press office that there were no plans to reorganize FRHS. More recently, however, Cashin released a statement to this paper through the DOE press office that said the school will be reorganized because it has been a School Under Register Review for three years, but that its name would not be changed. A number of people close to the school, however, tell us that the name will be changed to reflect the magnet school that now takes part of the building.

We called the State Department of Education, and a spokesperson told us that the state does not place schools on the reorganization list, that the DOE makes that determination. Who is not telling the truth?

Will FRHS get a new name, wiping out 100+ years of history, or will the four new schools planned for the building come under the FRHS rubric? We are not sure. What we are sure of, however, is that it would be a shame for Far Rockaway High School to disappear after more than 100 years of service to the Rockaway community. We recently learned, for example, that FRHS is the only high school in the nation (that’s right, in the nation) to have graduated three Nobel Laureates. How’s that for history. The three men are Richard Feynman recently deceased, Burton Richter and Baruch S. Blumberg. The latter two are still alive and still working. Richter, who won his Nobel for Physics in 1976, is the Director Emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Blumberg, who won his Nobel in Medicine in 1976 as well, is the Senior Advisor to the President at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Pennsylvania. In addition, another Nobel Laureate, Dr. Jonas Saulk, attended FRHS but graduated from another city school.

Add to that such luminaries as Carl Icahn, Dr. Joyce Brothers and Nancy Lieberman, and you have a history to be proud of – not one to bury under the name of some alternative program that will disappear in a few years. If, in fact, FRHS is on the fast track to oblivion, it is time for the DOE to rethink that change. There are just too many alumni chomping at the bit to fight the change and just too much history to ignore.

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