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Help Sites for Pushouts Are Closed


Ohanian Comment: This one is hard to believe. I wonder if they are using money saved here to fund their showcase small schools. The NY Times headline writer called these students "dropouts" but the article shows that they are pushouts. New York City's politicians have decided to push them out and then shut them down. This is obscene. Notice that officials call it a communications problem.

The New York City Education Department has shut down dozens of sites used by dropouts to prepare for the high school equivalency exam, bewildering staff members and creating a chaotic situation for young people already at risk of abandoning their studies.

Education officials said the closing of the sites, operated by a program called Auxiliary Services for High Schools, was part of a broader reorganization of alternative programs aimed at increasing the number of students who earn either a regular high school diploma or an equivalency degree, known as a G.E.D.

But parents, students, teachers and supervisors said they were blindsided by the decision to close the sites. In some cases, young people who thought they were within a year of earning an equivalency diploma suddenly found themselves cast adrift in the byzantine bureaucracy of the city schools.

Last year there were 51 auxiliary services sites operating day and evening programs across the city, said Bernard Gassaway, the senior superintendent of alternative schools. This year, Mr. Gassaway said, there are 11 daytime sites and 5 evening sites - one for each borough. He said 13,000 to 14,000 students attended last year.

Mr. Gassaway said that in an effort to inform the public, officials held a meeting in each borough in June to discuss the closings. But one official who attended said it was never made clear that so many sites would close. Similarly, a letter sent to students promised improvements in the program this school year but did not say that any of the sites would close. And unlike the case with most major policy changes, no announcement or press release was issued by the chancellor's office.

On Tuesday, after complaints from parents and site operators and inquiries from reporters, the Education Department said it would reopen 10 sites to prepare students 21 and older for the equivalency exam. But it was unclear how students would be contacted or when the sites would reopen.

The confusion surrounding the closings is the latest example of how efforts to fix longstanding problems - like the reorganization of special education programs and the revamping of high school admissions - have created major problems for students caught in the changes.

Critics say that an overhaul of alternative programs was long overdue, but that the lack of communication could be devastating given that many students have already dropped out of school and that the slightest obstacle could lead them to give up trying to get an equivalency diploma.

Karen Napoli, whose 18-year-old daughter, Joanne, dropped out of Herbert H. Lehman High School in 2003, said she was afraid her daughter might be one of them. Ms. Napoli said that she had hoped to sign Joanne up for G.E.D. preparation at a site on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx last week.

"She was supposed to start classes today, and I went there to register her and we found it was closed," Ms. Napoli said, adding that her daughter was one of about a dozen disappointed students that morning.

She said that officials at the site suggested that Joanne attend another site, at Monroe High School in the South Bronx, but that the distance from their home in Pelham Bay made it unlikely that her daughter would go. Yesterday about 40 students, parents and staff members rallied outside the site, demanding that it be kept open.

Frederick Gregory, the parent coordinator for all of the auxiliary sites, said he was receiving a stream of frantic calls. "My phone is like crazy," he said. "They want to know, 'When do we start school?' They want to know what's going on."

Eileen Moloney, who ran a program at the Middle Village Youth Center in Queens, said she was caught off guard by the news that her site would close. "They are still coming, trying to sign up," she said. "I haven't sent them any place because there is no place to send them."

Michele Cahill, Chancellor Joel I. Klein's senior counselor for education policy, acknowledged the communication problems but said officials were committed to creating better options for students who had struggled in regular school settings.

"It's unfortunate that any student would not have the information about where he or she needs to go to be educated, and we need to be sure that doesn't happen," she said.

She said a "major initiative" was planned, focused on keeping students in credit-bearing courses. "We need to not steer students to a G.E.D. when they can get high school credits and a regular diploma," she said. "It's a priority for this year."

Mr. Gassaway, the senior superintendent, said officials decided to consolidate the auxiliary services program because most of those students were not being well served - less than 20 percent of those enrolled earned high school equivalency degrees last year. And, according to the Education Department, the four-year dropout rates at auxiliary programs last year ranged from 66 percent in Queens to 80 percent in the Bronx.

Mr. Gassaway said that many students entered the program needing two or more years of reading and math instruction before being ready to take the equivalency exam - time that could be spent earning credits toward an actual diploma. And he said only about half of the students attended on a given day.

Mr. Gassaway said that the consolidated sites would ensure that only students truly ready to prepare for the equivalency program were in test-preparation classes, and that others got more rigorous instruction that would allow them to earn high school credits and perhaps lead them back to a regular diploma.

Among the improvements, he said, are four new literacy centers opened in partnership with Fordham University.

Elisa Hyman, deputy director of Advocates for Children, a nonprofit group that monitors the school system and has sued the city on behalf of students pushed into equivalency programs, applauded the efforts at improving alternative programs but said she was worried about students being hurt in the process.

In many cases, the young people hit hardest by the changes to the equivalency program have already gone through harrowing experiences in the school system.

After his father died of AIDS and a fire left him and his mother homeless in 1998, Nestor Rodriguez struggled at Bronx Technical High School before being urged to leave for an auxiliary program in 2001, when he was 17.

Now 20, Mr. Rodriguez said that he attended the G.E.D. program on East Tremont Avenue last year and improved from Level 1, the lowest literacy skills, to Level 3, and that he hoped to earn his equivalency diploma by the end of this academic year.

"I thought all I need to do is go there next year and finish it off," Mr. Rodriguez said. But when he returned to the center after summer vacation, he was stunned to find it was closing.


— David Herszenhorn
New York Times
Help Sites for Dropouts Are Closed

2004-10-30

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?oref=login&tntget=2004/09/30/nyregion/30school.html&tntemail0

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