By Clara Martinez Turco
Dozens of teachers and students of Christopher Columbus High School gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday night to oppose the Panel for Educational Policy’s decision to close the school. They were joined by several current and past public officials.
“It is critically important for Columbus High School to stay alive and to keeps its doors open,” said former New York Attorney General and former Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams while calling the Department of Education to reevaluate its decision.
The group also called authorities to reconsider an alternate plan to convert Columbus into a charter high school, a plan that was rejected in September by the State Education Department. Under the proposal, submitted by principal Lisa Fuentes in August, the school administration would take control and redesign the curriculum to better serve the needs of the community.
“We in the Bronx, more than in any other place, are impacted by schools that the Department of Education says they are failing,” said City Council Member and Columbus alumni James Vacca. Columbus, along with nine other schools in the Bronx, are set to phase out in September because of low performance in the past four years.
“The Department of Education has to look in the mirror… they have an opportunity to save a school whose tradition in the Pelham Parkway community and in the Bronx is without equal,” said Vacca. “Give us another look, we are worth saving and we want you to save us.”
Representatives of the United Federation of Teachers, State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein and the Partnership for Student Advocacy group also expressed their support to the charter conversion plan.
As several students took the podium to oppose the school’s closure, 17-year-old senior Wendy Valladares said Columbus has always supported its students. “Many of us come from other countries, and Columbus has always welcomed us, even if we came in the middle of the school year,” she said.
According to DOE’s statistics, 69 percent of the 1,466 students who attended the school between 2008-2009 come from families whose yearly income is lower than $28,665. At least 20 percent of the students have limited English proficiency.
Columbus will be replaced by Bronxdale High School, which will open its doors in September. Although the new school is expected to serve the same community, it will be smaller and will only take 450 students.