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Will De Witt Clinton High Survive?

 Possible high school closures like this one in the Bronx may pose problems for education in New York City By Kishan Singh

On Thursday December 6th, at an Open Forum held by the New York City Department of Education (DOE), former De Witt Clinton High School Principal, Dr. Norman Wechsler, told hundreds that, “The Bronx without DeWitt Clinton High School is like Manhattan without Stuyvesant High School or Cambridge, Massachusetts without Harvard University!”

Like many schools across the city, DeWitt Clinton has been targeted for closure after receiving an “F” on its annual report card. The Department of Education has stated that action must be taken at Clinton due to poor student performance, safety issues, and declining graduation rates.

Every year, the New York City Department of Education grades schools based on how well students do on standardized tests and parental surveys. De Witt Clinton High School along with schools such as the Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts–Harlem`s only performing arts school–and the Frederick Douglass Academy II, are on the city`s list of schools that may be phased out or broken up into smaller schools.

Students and staff say that the DOE sabotaged the 115-year-old Clinton that graduated the likes of Countee Cullen, James Baldwin, Ralph Lauren, and Stan Lee, by enrolling too many students who have special needs.

Alan Ettman, United Federation of Teachers representative and an English teacher at Clinton, says that the school has a high percentage of English language learners, who make up 19 percent of the student body. In addition, special education students comprise 13 percent.  With this in mind, Ettman aruges that the city has failed to provide Clinton with the resources necessary to help these students. Last year, Clinton returned $1.7 million to the DOE, which was already budgeted to fund important student programs.

CCNY student and Clinton graduate, Nikeeyia Howell, says “The DOE acts as if they are supplying some demand that our state has for more small schools. Who is asking for these small schools? They [DOE] created this demand by restricting funding and resources to the larger schools…The whole grading system is flawed.”

Despite its grade of “F”, the school earned a “B” for preparing its students for college. In addition, the 60 percent of Clinton graduates earn an average of 30 credits during their first two years of college. The state average is 61.5 percent.

De Witt Clinton has a long association with CCNY. Bernie Fligel, who graduated from Clinton, entered City College in 1934 and won the Haggerty Award, given to the top men’s Division I basketball player in New York. He is the only CCNY student to win the award. In addition, long-time Harlem congressman Charles Rangel attended Clinton in 1947; he later established the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at CCNY.

Some believe that the mayor and his administration should take the blame for struggling schools like Clinton.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters says, “From what I can tell, these [large schools in NYC] were actually good schools that provided a very good education for generations of students…They were always underfunded and overcrowded, but they had good teachers and good programs. And then the rug was pulled out from under them by the Bloomberg administration.”