BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Emotions were running high at last week’s Martin Van Buren High School and B-Tech School implementation meeting, with local advocates vocalizing their frustrations with the forced co-location.
Despite protests from the community, in March the Dept. of Education voted to move the six-year business technology school into Martin Van Buren – a school that has struggled in the last few years.
At the May 10 meeting, Hoa Tu, leading founder and principal at the new Business Technology Early College High School, was given the opportunity to speak to concerned residents and community leaders about the curriculum and implementation plans this fall.
She began her presentation by highlighting B-Tech’s vision and six-year model.
“At B-Tech, if you take nothing away from what I say tonight, take this,” Tu said. “Any student and any staff member coming into our community can get smart, can get better and can do anything they aspire to do as long as they are willing to work hard.”
She noted that, upon graduation, students at B-Tech will have earned a high school diploma, job training and an associate’s degree from the neighboring Queensborough Community College – their partnering college.
In order to obtain the associate degree, Tu explained, students will have to declare a business-technology-related major in the 10th grade. They will have the option of switching majors up until they reach their senior year of high school.
But some found the idea of requiring students to select a major at such a young age troubling, including Joan Moretti, an English teacher at Martin Van Buren and an adjunct lecturer in English at QCC.
“When I taught my classes here, I tell [my students] you’re no longer in high school, you’re in college. And that’s a real mental challenge for a lot of students,” Moretti said. “And these students are seniors that I’ve taught, so when I hear sophomores are getting college classes pushed down their face, [it’s a] real big deal.”
Tu responded to Moretti’s comment by emphasizing the appeal of a business-tech training and education, which she said can be applied to and useful in almost any career field.
Tensions continued to rise when Tu, along with two DOE reps, admitted that they did not know how many of B-Tech’s 108 first-year students hailed from District 26. The reps did note that B-Tech gives Queens students admission priority, however, students’ districts were not weighed in during the enrollment process.
The DOE did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding enrollment figures. But those in attendance recalled that a previous spokesperson from the DOE said that the new B-Tech school accepted roughly 10 children from D26.
“We have a big problem with the selection process here,” said Kirby Lindell, vice president of the Bell Park Manor Terrace Board. “It’s really not a bonus to us unless they take District 26 kids first.”
“The civic association and the elected officials – we got rid of Marilyn Shevell,” said Anthony Lemma, a spokesperson at Assemblyman David Weprin’s (D-Fresh Meadows) office, angrily referring to Martin Van Buren’s former principal. “And now you come in here with 10 kids to this program? It’s an insult. It’s a disgrace.”
Sensing the tone of the meeting was changing, Tu tried to relate to the frustrations expressed by those in attendance.
“Before you met me, I must have sounded and looked like the wicked witch of the east. I get it – it’s a human thing,” she said.
She went on to say that she is open to sitting down with those frustrated with the co-location so that she can address some of their concerns.
“I think we are not going to solve everything, but I think that’s a start,” she said. “I get it. I took your math space. I took your room and I get that. I also get that you’re saying it because the situation is just disgusting. But I am not a disgusting human being and you’re not either. We have a job to do for the children moving here in September and we are going to serve them well.”
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.