NEW YORK COMMUNITY MEDIA ALLIANCE, Dara N. Sharif, Special to the Amsterdam News
BRONX, NY - Almost seven years ago, two all-boys public high schools opened in New York City, for the first time in decades, with the promise of raising achievement among their students, especially Black and Latino boys.
Soon, one of them will disappear. The city has decided to shut down the Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship for Young Men in the Bronx, citing low standardized test scores and a four-year graduation rate of 43 percent.
Students, parents and teachers are outraged. They say that a study touted on the Department of Education website demonstrates that Urban Assembly performed better than the rest of the city when it came to graduating Black and Latino boys. They also say that Urban Assembly's numbers provide an incomplete picture that fails to account for the fact that the all-boys school was housed in a co-ed building and that it was assessed alongside schools that educate girls, who historically perform better academically than boys.
"It's an academic lynching," said Rae Vaughn Williams, 17, a graduating senior at Urban Assembly who in the fall will attend Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., on a four-year full scholarship. "By closing the school, it just shows New York City doesn't care about young men of African-American and Latino descent. It says you belong in prison upstate and you don't want us to succeed."
"We're going to defend our right to exist," said Adhim DeVeaux, a math teacher and teacher's union representative at Urban Assembly. "The vote happened, but in this country, there are many court cases that have been overturned. We're looking at all our options."
Urban Assembly is one of the more than a dozen schools the city decided to close during meetings of the DOE's Panel for Educational Policy on Feb. 1 and 3. Urban Assembly is being phased out, which means the school can no longer accept transfer students or incoming ninth graders and will close for good after its current ninth grade class graduates in 2014.
The school made news in September 2004 when it was one of the first all-boys public high schools to open in the city in decades. The other was Eagle Academy for Young Men, also in the Bronx, which remains open. The schools' founders promoted single-sex education as a way to get boys to focus on their studies without the distraction of girls.
Urban Assembly failed to live up to the task of educating the 225 Black and Latino boys it serves, city officials said.
"This was a tough decision for us, but at the end of the day it's our responsibility to give parents schools they want to send their children to and that are achieving outstanding results for their students," schools spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said.
A report on the DOE website from the Schott Foundation for Public Education puts the city's four-year graduation rate for Black boys at 28 percent, 15 points lower than Urban Assembly's. But the city disputes that figure, Zarin-Rosenfeld said. DOE statistics put the four-year graduation rate for Black boys at 46.5 percent, and at 45.3 percent for Latino boys.
"By no means do we think 46.5 is good enough, but we need to put all our resources into making sure students, particularly disadvantaged students, are getting much better outcomes," Zarin-Rosenfeld said.
Supporters of Urban Assembly said the school has done its best with the limited resources it has been given.
Despite being a single-sex school, Urban Assembly has never had its own building and instead shares space with five co-ed schools in the old Taft High School building on East 172nd Street, in the Bronx. Some classrooms are overcrowded and the school does not always have the books and other materials it needs, parents said.
"The teachers did the best that they could," said William's mother, Greer Gardner, 42, of the Bronx.
Located in a community plagued by crime and poverty, Urban Assembly deserves credit for what it has been able to accomplish.
"With all the drug dealing and gang banging, by the time kids get to school, peer pressure is great for these kids not to do well," said Al-Khidr Muhammad, 61, of East Harlem, whose 15-year-old son, Zoser, is a 10th grader at Urban Assembly. "For the rate that they do graduate, it's a miracle."
"You can't say we're an F school without failing the entire city of New York," DeVeaux said.