By Choudhury Rahman & Richard Yeung
New York City is home to some of the most prestigious schools in the country and its students can agree that the curriculum is no walk in the park. While many students are passing with desired grades, there are others who are not doing as well. This problem does not lie solely in students’ abilities or lack thereof. Many NYC schools are struggling to provide a satisfactory education for their students.
Bernard Gassaway, the principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, recently handed in his resignation letter. Gassaway explains his resignation, saying that the city has no adequate plans regarding struggling schools and that the Department of Education is taking a touch-and-go approach. He told The New York Times, “They (NYCDOE) are making it up as they go along.”
Heather Berry, who teaches AP Calculus at Brooklyn Tech, understands Gassaway’s perspective. “I believe the principal of Boys and Girls High School is citing something very true – there is not enough of a plan coming from our DOE in order to truly combat the challenges being faced by schools like this. Previously, I taught at a small public high school in Prospect Heights and I felt very unsatisfied by the lack of support provided by the DOE during times of leadership transition.”
The quality of Boys and Girls High School is reflected by its number of students, which is declining sharply. The Times reported that the student population fell from two thousand in 2009 to eight hundred for the 2014 school year. Many of its students can testify that the school is in need of improvement.
One student of Boys and Girls, who is expected to transfer, criticizes many factors of the school. He told The Times, “The school could be better, the teaching could be better, the resources could be a whole lot better.”
Mahlek Abdou ’16 agrees that a diversity of classes plays a major role in school success. “Students these days have a wide variety of academic tastes, and you similarly need a wide variety of classes to accommodate for that.”
The school chancellor, Carmen Farina and Mayor Bill de Blasio have not been taking the approach of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the past. Previously, Bloomberg had shut down struggling schools and replaced them with smaller ones. During the last term of his administration, several schools, including Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, were slated to be shut down. However, that policy was retracted before it could be implemented. Fortunately, Boys and Girls High School was not on that list.
Boys and Girls High School was established in 1878, making it the oldest public high school in Brooklyn. It boasts a slew of notable alumni, including Shirley Chisholm, Norman Mailer and Aaron Copland. Lately, however, the school’s reputation has been slowly declining. According to the NYCDOE Progress Report for the 2012-2013 school year, the school received an overall grade of “F,” garnering 35.8 points out of 100. The graduation rate for that year was 43.9%.
Gassaway is not the only one questioning the plans for struggling schools. Many have criticized the city’s approach to help schools improve. Gassaway says that for Boys and Girls in particular, there is no cohesive plan for improving the school. Changes to the the curriculum, namely the adaptation of the Common Core, have made things even more complicated.
Ashir Raffe ’16 says that “Common Core was not the way to go. It makes things more confusing by looking at accepted practices in a different, unorthodox way.”
Not all educators put the blame solely on the school administration. Some acknowledge that in order to learn, students sometimes need to make the incentive themselves.
Dr. Gary Levine, a teacher in the biology department of Brooklyn Tech, says, “The mechanism is there and the teachers attempt to provide it. But whether or not the students take advantage of this is due to a number of factors, even in a school like Boys and Girls.”