Plan would turn Clinton into educational campus


DeWitt Clinton will soon share space with two new schools if the Department of Education gets its way.

The DOE announced Jan. 18 that it plans to turn the Mosholu Parkway South building into the Clinton Educational Campus. According to the proposal, the two new public high schools would start taking ninth-grade students next fall and add one grade level each year until their enrollments are each between 420 and 460. Meanwhile, Clinton’s enrollment would be scaled down from about 3,630 to 2,250 students over the next four years.

According to the DOE’s educational impact statement, the new schools would gradually grow to use 16 full-size classrooms. Clinton would hand over the building’s 125 full-size classrooms until it only uses 75 by the 2016-2017 school year. The schools would share large spaces, such as three gyms, a cafeteria, an auditorium, a library, a dance room and a pool.

Whether any of Clinton’s six academic programs would be reduced or cut would be left up to the school’s administration, which will consider student demand, staffing and budgetary constraints, according to the educational impact statement.

Although Clinton was spared from the DOE’s official list of schools to be phased out or closed come fall, Clinton teachers say the proposal will leave the school battling for space and with a more limited budget, since a portion of schools’ funding is doled out on a per-student basis.

Alan Ettman, one of the school’s English teachers and its United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, said he knows firsthand that shrinking schools doesn’t fix them.

He said he learned that lesson when he taught at Walton High School from 1984 to 2005. Walton graduated its last class in 2008, after new schools were co-located in its building during the early 2000s.

“Whenever they do it, it seems to kill the school eventually,” he said. “They bleed the schools of money on purpose.”

Mr. Ettman said the wing of the building where the new schools were located was renovated and that Walton students felt more like “second class” students each time another school opened on the Walton Educational Campus.

Clinton’s co-locations were announced after the school was flagged for “early engagement.” The DOE said it targeted Clinton because it received its second consecutive “F” on the annual school Progress Report in November, because the school fell within the 5 percent of lowest performing schools statewide and was plagued by low graduation rates and safety problems.

As part of the early engagement process, the DOE met with students, teachers and parents to solicit feedback on how to handle Clinton. Hundreds of alumni, parents, students and staff showed up at a Dec. 6 meeting and spoke out against tampering with the 115-year-old institution.

Many said the department should start by stemming the flow of high-needs students that have flooded Clinton since the DOE started closing large high schools across the city. English Language Learners make up 19 percent of the student body and special education students comprise 13 percent of students, according to Mr. Ettman.

Other attendees at the meeting said the school lacked basic resources, including textbooks.

David Pena, a press representative for the DOE, said the early engagement talks convinced the DOE that reducing Clinton’s enrollment “was the best course of action” because it would help the school focus more attention on each student. He said the DOE was still crafting an action plan to help improve Clinton with the school’s staff and support network.

Both new schools would use an admissions process that gives priority to students who live in or attend school in the Bronx and who demonstrate an interest in the new schools by attending a related information session, going to the schools’ open houses or visiting the schools’ exhibits at a high school fair, he said.

But Mr. Ettman warned that at Walton, arguments over space and personnel were frequent.

“It was hard to get them to agree to everything. It was like the scene in The Godfather where the five families meet and then kill each other,” he said.

For instance, he said that all five of the building’s administrations had to agree to pay a fifth of a librarian’s salary before hiring one. Schools had to pool students to fill advanced placement classes.

Kate Martin-Bridge, a math teacher and ninth-grade academy coordinator at Clinton, said space is already too tight for teachers to have their own desks or computers.

“There’s no mention at all at how they propose to support teachers, the faculty and staff that want to do, with all their heart and soul, nothing more than meet the needs of the students that we have in our building,” she said.

Clinton’s alumni association, along with Gerard Pelisson, who published a historical book on Clinton and taught there until 1982, accused the DOE of favoritism when it found out the department planned to leave untouched the Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, which also was on the early engagement list.

Neither the DOE nor Clinton principal Geraldine Ambrosio returned requests for comment on the allegation by press time.

The DOE will hold a public hearing on the proposal in Clinton on Thursday, Feb. 21, at 6 p.m. The Panel for Education Policy will vote on the plan at its Monday, March 11 meeting in Brooklyn Technical High School, located at 29 Fort Greene Pl., at 6 p.m.