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Students rally for Columbus

Pelham Parkway resounded with chants of “SAVE OUR SCHOOL!” and “COLUMBUS IS NOT FOR SALE!” prior to a public hearing on the proposed phase-outs of Christopher Columbus High School and Global Enterprise Academy, a small school on the Columbus campus, on Thursday, January 7. Nearly 1,000 Columbus students, teachers, parents, alumni and neighbors rallied against the city Department of Education plan.

The hearing opened with an onslaught of DOE data. Global Enterprise had a 51 percent graduation rate in 2008-2009. Only 64 percent of Global Enterprise students earn ten or more credits each year. The high school earned a C on its 2008-2009 DOE progress report.

The DOE blasted Columbus for chronically poor performance. Columbus earned a D on its 2008-2009 progress report and ranked in the bottom two percent of high schools citywide. Only 152 students asked to enroll in Columbus for 2009-2010, a DOE study found.

Some 85 speakers disagreed with the DOE on January 7. Councilman Jimmy Vacca, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s education director, Jesse Mojica, Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera and Community Board 11 district manager John Fratta opposed the phase-out proposals. So did a staffer from the office of Senator Jeff Klein. Vacca singled out DOE Chancellor Joel Klein.

“Global Enterprise was a creation of this chancellor and Columbus was reconfigured by this chancellor,” the Columbus alumnus said.

Vacca challenged the DOE to fix rather than shutter the high schools.

“Columbus has a proud history,” he said.

Several speakers asked which “stakeholders” the DOE consulted prior to its proposal and highlighted the high-need student populations that Columbus and Global Enterprise enroll. Columbus principal Lisa Fuentes delivered a history lesson on her 70-year old institution. Fuentes argued that new charter schools and a Columbus campus reconfiguration have pushed hundreds of special education students to enroll at Columbus. Nearly 25 percent of Columbus students are special education students, she said.

A school that the DOE has tapped to replace Columbus won’t cater to special education students, Christine Rowland of the United Federation of Teachers charged.

Global Enterprise teachers contended that the high school has progressed in each of its three years, based on test scores and graduation rates. It nearly earned a B on its 2008-2009 progress report, they said.

Columbus student Tara Mastafa, 16, begged the city Panel for Educational Policy to keep her high school open.

“To shut Columbus down [would be] unjust,” Mastafa said. “The principal, the teachers, the staff, the counselors…everyone who works at Columbus cares.”

On Tuesday, January 26, the panel will vote on a score of proposed phase-outs. Under the DOE’s plan, Columbus and Global Enterprise would lose one grade each year, while a new school or schools would add one grade each year.

Reach reporter Amanda Marinaccio at 718 742-3394 or amarinaccio@cnglocal.com

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