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Brooklyn high school wins another chance

New York Teacher
Discussing the next steps in their efforts to build up Brooklyn Collegiate
Miller Photography

Meeting to discuss the next steps in their efforts to build up Brooklyn Collegiate are (from left) Parent Coodinator Susan Rambhajan, teacher Tammy Glen, Community Schools Director Rosana Shields and dean Gerald Latham.

Brooklyn Collegiate has won a one-year reprieve.

The school was pronounced “dead” in early January as one of 14 low-performing schools the Department of Education said it would close in June. But the Brooklyn Collegiate community, with the support of the UFT, joined together and convinced the DOE to give the Brownsville high school another chance — at least for another year.

“We’re very excited,” said Nancy Vedrine, the mother of a 10th-grade boy at the school. “But we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Brooklyn Collegiate was one of eight schools from the city’s School Renewal Program to make the original closure list. The DOE cited dwindling enrollment, a large number of chronically absent students and a low four-year graduation rate as its reasons to shutter the school.

But teachers, students and community members say they have seen improvements at the school that hadn’t yet translated to the data reports. “This school really has a lot to offer and should not be closing,” said Betty Zohar, the UFT parent-community liaison for Brooklyn, who played a key role in organizing the school community to fight for the school’s survival.

Community members noted that the decision to close came a half year short of the three-year commitment the mayor gave to renewal schools to turn around. The enrollment dip at Brooklyn Collegiate came after it was labeled a renewal school, they said. And while its four-year graduation rate may be below the citywide average of 74 percent, it nonetheless rose from 56 percent to 63 percent, and its six-year graduation rate of 84 percent “shows students are sticking around, staying in school” and eventually graduating, Zohar said.

Gerald Latham, a dean at the school, said at-risk students often needed more time and support to graduate.

“We are in a low socioeconomic neighborhood,” said Latham, who grew up in the area. “A lot of our kids come to us at a disadvantage. We have a homeless population, and our students are dealing with a lot of outside stuff. Sometimes it takes a year, a year and a half to convince them that education is for them instead of dropping out because they are dealing with too much at home.”

Vedrine noted that the school offers counseling; 10 advanced placement courses, including to students with disabilities like her son; and a food pantry for community members — many of whom live in shelters.

“Most kids come in with reading levels below grade level,” Vedrine said, “and moving them up takes time. We need them to move forward so they can dream big for their futures.”

She added that “the school to prison pipeline is very real in this neighborhood. The students enrolled in the school are predominantly young African American boys, and there are a lot of black male teachers at the school who are role models for these boys. They trust their teachers.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams came up with $700,000 to help fund whatever the school needs going forward, Zohar said. The committee that met the last two months to plot strategy will continue to meet weekly now that the school has been given a stay, exploring ways to boost Regents scores, increase enrollment, encourage more parent involvement and determine what further supports are needed.

“I received an anonymous card during the holidays from a student who told me that because of a talk I had with the students about men not giving up, he has decided to continue school,” said Latham. “We are moving our students in the right direction. The pace may be slow, but unless you are here on a daily basis to see what we are actually doing, you don’t realize the difference we are making.”