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City Votes to Close Paul Robeson High School

Two Thousand People Raise Voices Against  DOE Decision

Despite heartfelt pleas from Paul Robeson High School students, parents and teachers, the Department of Education voted Wednesday to shutter the long-standing Bed-Stuy school.
The vote came after a spirited public hearing at Brooklyn Technical High School, which drew about 2,000 people, pitting charter school advocates and its nonunion teachers against public school advocates and its unionized teachers.
“This [closure] feels like you’re a failure yourself so it really hurts the student’s morale,” said Robeson senior Nijel Hill, 17, who has a 3.5 grade point average and will attend Trinity College next year.
Under the DOE plan, Robeson will be phased out by 2014 and be replaced with a IBM-supported technology-themed school which will go up to Grade 14 and include both a high school degree and a college associates degree, along with an existing high school – the Academy for Health Careers.
The DOE is justifying the closure by noting that last year the four-year graduation rate at the school was 50 percent, well below the citywide average of 63 percent.
The DOE also points out the diminishing student body of 671 in a building with a capacity of over 1,000.
But Stefanie Siegel, who has taught English at Robeson since 1991, said the falling student body is due to the DOE slandering the school the past few years in its reports. Additionally, many of the kids are “high needs” students, some of whom come from transitional housing, she said.
“Our school should be left open. We are not getting enough resources,” said Siegel, adding most of the city money is going to the DOE’s smaller schools, initiatives leaving the bigger schools to fend for themselves in a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure.
Hill backed Siegel’s comments in noting a list of activities that the DOE no longer supports or funds including the chess team, the debate team, the robotics club and a Citi Group mentoring and internship program.
Additionally, the school only provides two advanced placement classes this year instead of the five or six they had last year, he said.
Parents at the school said they are upset that the DOE has not reached out to them.
“It took me by surprise. I had no clue the school was closing,” said Angie Richardson, whose 14-year-old daughter is a freshman at the school. “I love the school and they should keep it open. Instead, they are withholding funds to support charter schools.”
Parent Pamela Henry, whose daughter was valedictorian at the school last year, also feels the school should stay open.
“All four of my children have gone here and I have nieces and nephews here,” said Henry. “I want it to stay open.”
City Councilman Al Vann, in whose district Robeson lies, noted the school improved last year in both the graduation and attendance rate.
“We have the ability to turn it around,” he said.
Vann said he liked the idea of the IBM school in the district as well, but it shouldn’t be an either/or question of closing Robeson to open the IBM school.
“We would help them [IBM] find a facility. We’re going to have a meeting with the DOE to discuss that and other issues,” Vann said.