Statement from Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz on the Closure of Richmond Hill High School

April 20, 2012
I stand united with the students, parents, and faculty of Richmond Hill High School (RHHS) in strong opposition to its closure.

Richmond Hill High School serves an incredibly diverse community. We have seen an influx of families who originate from countries in Latin America and Asia who settled in the neighborhoods of Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, and Woodhaven. RHHS, like many of the schools slated to be closed, has many English language learners.

As we have seen with other closures, otherwise known as “turnarounds”, children who live in the neighborhoods surrounding their local schools have suffered unimaginably. A recent study conducted by the Urban Youth Collaborative shows of the 33,000 students from 21 high schools closed between 2000-2009, 5,162 dropped out. That number is particularly tragic as we lose ground to other countries that continue to invest substantial resources in education and gain a foothold in the competitive global marketplace. It also sends a message to our youth that we are not interested in making commitments to them in their own neighborhood. The evidence of this is striking. RHHS was originally built in 1899 to accommodate 1,800 students. Enrollment exploded to 3,500 and has only been reduced in the last 2 years. This kind of overcrowding has resulted in peculiar class and activity scheduling. I understand that there are some kids who are scheduled to eat lunch at 9:45 in the morning. Despite these hardships, the students of RHHS have persevered and taken advantage of special programs that the school offers. I will briefly discuss two of them here.

The first is the Saturday Academy, which offers classes and tutoring in a variety of subject matter. The second is the Small Learning Communities (SLC) program. Students are placed into one of six SLC’s during Grades 10-12 with concentrations in Design, Business & Finance, Health & Fitness, Forensics, and Law & Engineering. Completion of the SLC leads to internship opportunities. This program should be singled out in that real world skills are being taught at RHHS with the potential for kids to start meaningful career paths.

I implore the Panel for Education Policy to consider these factors when deciding the fate of RHHS and the other 26 high schools that are slated for closure. As we have seen with the seven schools the City just recently decided to spare, there is always room to reinterpret data and reexamine the exclusive challenges each institution faces. We should be working to put more resources into our communities rather than finding ways to tear the heart and soul out of our centers of learning. Listen to the parents, teachers, and most of all the students who love their school and want to prosper here. Vote no to closure and say yes to our kids.