MVB, P-Tech Co-Location Moves Forward

BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Staff Writer

Despite much protest, the Dept. of Education is moving forward with its plans to co-locate Martin Van Buren School with a new six-year technology high school this fall.

Starting September 2014, the new P-Tech school will gradually phase into Martin Van Buren while Martin Van Buren scales back enrollment. The new school will serve freshmen beginning 2014-2015 and will add one grade level every year until the school reaches its full grade span of ninth through the second year of college -level course work.

In October, hundreds of students and community leaders rallied outside of the high school to protest the DOE’s plan to move a Career and Technical Education early college and career high school, P-Tech, into Martin Van Buren.

Many of the students who spoke in opposition to the co-location expressed concerns about resources.

“We’re going to lose almost 20 percent of our good teachers,” student Bree Booraj said at the rally. “We’re not going to have the high-tech things we want. The other school is going to have it and we’re not going to have it.”

According to David Pena, a spokesperson for the DOE, the administration has been analyzing 49 proposals across the City, all of which were approved at the very end of the previous administration. Of the 49 proposals from last fall, the administration withdrew nine and revised one.

Queens’ Long Island City High School was also slated to co-locate with a CTE school this fall, but escaped the chopping block after the administration opted to place the CTE school within LICHS’s curriculum.

“This is a win for all of us in the community, but most of all for the students who only want the resources they deserve to receive a proper education,” State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said in a statement.

But Martin Van Buren High School was not as lucky.

Sam Sochet is in his second year as principal at Martin Van Buren High School. He has previously voiced his concern for his school, which has struggled in recent years.

According to the DOE’s website, in the 2009-2010 school year, Martin Van Buren received a letter grade C, in the 2010-2011 school year the MVB received a letter grade D and last year, it just barely earned a letter grade C.

“It’s a 340,000-square-foot facility, it’s got a beautiful athletic field and I looked at it and said, ‘Why is this place considered an undesirable destination for families to send their children to?’” Sochet asked at a Community Board 12 meeting last year.

Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), whose district encompasses the high school, has openly spoken out against the co-location, which he feels was rushed and done “in the middle of the night.”

“Literally, in the middle of the night, we found out that they were planning on bringing a co-location in the school. That I found to be outrageous,” Weprin said.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has also spoken out against the co-location of Martin Van Buren, echoed Weprin’s sentiments.

“I’m livid because it’s a total stab in the back to everyone who has been trying to bring back Van Buren to its previous preeminence, it’s a stab in the back to the principal who has been turning the school around and it’s a stab in the back to the students and the parents,” Avella said.

In response, Avella said that he has been talking to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s staff about the co-location.

“This goes against his policy against these co-locations,” he said. “If they go ahead, especially in this situation, then the administration is being hypocritical.”

Weprin, like Avella, said he has been working with the administration, both the past and present, to improve conditions at Martin Van Buren. He believes that co-locating the school may jeopardize the progress.

“We were making progress, and it just seems like now putting another school in there that’s going to fight for the gym space, fight for the art classes and the room they have – it’s going to cause issues,” he said.

Though the P-Tech program has a proven track record in Brooklyn, Weprin said he can not be so sure that it will be as successful at the Queens Village school.

“We don’t know whether this new program will appeal to the community because no one told us about it until it was announced that it was happening,” he said. “Wouldn’t it have made more sense to do this slowly and actually speak to the community?”

Though Weprin said he is unhappy with the way the DOE handled Martin Van Buren’s co-location, he has sat down with the Deputy Schools Chancellor, who he said assured him that in the future, the agency will try to work with the community.

“That’s the only assurance I got – that they will work with us in the future,” he said. “We just wish they would have worked with us from the beginning.”

Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or nkozikowska@queenspress.com or @nkozikowska.