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City’s Commitment To Vocational Schools Questioned

Reorganization of Maxwell could spell end of cosmetology program —

If Brooklyn students want to take up a trade such as cosmetology, medical assisting or fashion, William H. Maxwell High School in East New York was historically the school to attend, but with the city now slating to close or drastically change the vocational school many students and educators are left in the lurch.
The Department of Education (DOE) deemed Maxwell as one of the city’s 33 failing schools despite its giving the trade school an “A” on its latest report card. And even though the graduation rate has improved from 30% in 2005 to 60% in 2011, the school plans to let go of about half its staff come June.
“It makes me question is it really about the kids as the mayor and the chancellor has us to believe?” said Zakiyah Ansari, parent leader for the Coalition for Educational Justice. “It’s like we’re being penalized for progress. When you look at other schools that went from an ‘A’ to ‘B’ and declined thereafter, there was no intervention from the Department of Education.”
Faculty and other educators at Maxwell are equally concerned.
“It’s unfair to our students who have worked hard for the past three years,” said Parent Coordinator Karen Scott. “What they’re saying to us is that because we didn’t reach our yearly annual progress on our math and English language tests, they want to close us. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with us getting the ‘A’.”
Scott said the school is also a place that has created a family atmosphere where kids and parents alike can come and collectively work together to make the school successful.
“They’re looking at data as opposed to where we were and where we are now. We have to reach a common ground and I would suggest that they come into the school itself and see what we’re doing,” Scott said.
A DOE spokesperson responded that the reorganization of Maxwell puts it in line for receiving state School Improvement Grants.
“This would indeed involve closing the school, but not in the traditional sense,” said the spokesperson. “We believe this action makes us eligible for the state’s School Improvement Grants, which was suspended after negotiations broke down with the United Federation of Teachers.”
The issue also puts a spotlight on the DOE’s policy for vocational or trade schools such as Maxwell or Grady High School in Coney Island, where students get trade background in such subjects as electronics and air conditioning.
“At this point, there is no way to tell if this process will directly affect trade programs at schools like Maxwell,” said the spokesperson.
One City Hall source said the DOE doesn’t really have a strong commitment to vocational schools, and only has one state vocational Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) school.
“There’s only one BOCES school and it’s on the Upper East Side, which is not easily accessible for a lot of students,” said the source.