arring a miracle, at the end of the 2011-12 academic year a high school which first opened its classrooms to Queens youngsters in 1889 will cease to exist. The William Cullen Bryant H.S. art deco building at 48-10 31st Ave. in Long Island City will house five separate schools, none of them to bear the name of the American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post whose name is carved over the school’s main entrance.
In May 2011, Bryant, which has approximately 3,200 students and a student body that is 50 percent Hispanic, 27 percent Asian, 15 percent white, and eight percent African-American, and has a four-year graduation rate of 57 percent and an attendance rate of 88.8 percent, was placed on the New York state Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools list for failing to graduate 60 percent of its students for three consecutive years. Bryant was required to submit to one of four federally approved plans in order to qualify for up to $2 million a year in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding for three years. The city Department of Education (DOE) selected Bryant to undergo the restart intervention model. Bryant was placed under the supervision of a non-profit Educational Management Organization (EMO) approved by the state legislature. The school would retain the structure and staff in place at the time that the restart model was implemented. Along with Flushing, Long Island City, Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams High Schools, Bryant was given three years under the restart model to raise graduation rates and test scores, but would not be closed.
A deadline for negotiations that would have ensured continuing of the SIG grants was missed at the end of 2011. Although an agreement reached in mid-February on the state level concerning the evaluation process for teachers settled a dispute between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) over appeals, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the DOE declared that the turnaround model would supersede the restart model.
Under the turnaround model, the eight Queens high schools, including Bryant, will be closed, renamed and all educators will have to be rehired. The process must be completed and finalized by July 1 and the schools will reopen as new entities in time for the fall semester. While students now enrolled in the schools are guaranteed seats at the new schools, more than half the teachers at the schools could be fired, and many of the schools will get new principals. Teachers who are not rehired will be put into a costly pool of substitute teachers that may cost the city as much as $100 million. Bryant could be divided internally into as many as five separate schools in the same building.
The turnaround process marks the end of a school that numbers entertainer Ethel Merman, former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas among its distinguished alumni.—Linda J. Wilson