Adonys Jimenez, left, and Bageot Dia worked on a video recently at Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications.
The killing of Jonathan M. Levin, a son of the Time Warner chairman, by one of his former high school students in 1997 transfixed a city that was breaking free of its crime-ridden past.
Five years later, the New York City Education Department opened Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications in the same South Bronx building where he had taught, declaring it "a living tribute" to the English teacher's "spirit, values, commitment and impassioned belief" that every child has a right to a quality education.
But in the past few years, a quality education at Levin High School became harder to come by. Money for a college scholarship in Mr. Levin's name dried up. A ball field that a Mets official helped pay for fell into disrepair. Computers sat untouched, applications to the school fell and the graduation rate sank to 31 percent, the fifth-lowest in the city.
Now, just a decade after it opened, New York has deemed Levin High School a failure, and is preparing to close it down.
Closing schools, and replacing them with new ones, has become a hallmark of education reform efforts around the country, promoted by the Obama administration and embraced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has shuttered 142 of them since taking office in 2002 and, in his final year, is moving to close 24 more. The central, free-market premise is that schools that fail to deliver should not be permitted to continue, and that their buildings could be better used to experiment with new ideas, often with new personnel.
The policy has been repeatedly criticized by teachers' unions, and is now also under attack by several Democratic candidates for mayor, who in varying degrees have all pledged to slow or halt the process of closing schools. Civil-rights groups have filed complaints with the federal Education Department asserting that the policy has a disproportionate effect on black and Hispanic students.
The critics contend that school systems like New York's are more interested in letting schools fail, to accelerate the process of creating new schools, than in helping struggling schools, and the students in them, succeed.
"We have a mayor who treats the act of closing a school as the accomplishment," said Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate and, as one of five Democratic mayoral hopefuls, a supporter of a moratorium on closings. "What should be a last resort is now the go-to policy, and kids are suffering the consequences."
There may be no better example for weighing these arguments than Levin High School, which, as it happens, is one of seven small schools operating inside the shell of William Howard Taft High School, Jonathan Levin's school, which was closed for poor performance.
"It is actually very painful," said Mr. Levin's father, Gerald M. Levin, 73, who retired from Time Warner in 2001. The schools chancellor personally called Mr. Levin in January to prepare him for the heartbreak. "I said that: 'Well, there are some special things taking place at that school and those statistics may belie the efforts that encourage a couple of students to go on. We could have future leaders and future writers somewhere in that group.' "
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SOURCE: The New York Times