Jamaica High School: The Impact of the Closure

Does a large school have what it takes to survive these days?

One of the most shocking news stories in US education has been the closing of Jamaica High School in Queens.  It was once home to a Georgian Revival building on Gothic Drive (courtesy of the 1920s). The building was quite spectacular: there were numerous wings, granite columns, and a well-dressed bell tower smack dab in the middle of a neighbourhood known mostly for its residential addresses.

Students of this high school were dressed in red and blue for their graduation ceremony, at the last ever graduation ceremony conducted for the educational institute, which even counted as some of the staff members as alumni. 122 years later the school closed and it was all part of rolling out the fine print dictated by the New York City Department of Education, as a result of ongoing violence and a graduation rate bordering on only 50percent; four small-sized and new schools are being housed in that Georgian building now.

These episodes beg the question of what is really happening to the standard of education in the United States? Who is really to blame for the declining rate of graduation in high schools? Can smaller schools really solve the problems of urban education? Jamaica High school closed amongst a time when many of its demands were no longer met because of space-issues, thanks to the newer schools. Jamaica was for a very long time an exemplary example of a secondary school: it was a good place to go to.

Less students however graduated from it pre-closure, and the achievements it would make were nothing worth writing home about. Academic failure, educators who do not appropriately answer the majority-minority student body it was selected to represent, were amongst its worries. Voices of protest have come from some older alumni of the school but perhaps the strongest out of all of the confusion has been the one that questions why it could not meet its minimum standards, despite its reasonably illustrious history: was it for a lack of financial capabilities? Was it for a shortage of material resources? Or was it part of a secret agenda to cut jobs for long-term teachers?

In my point of view, the closure of a school signals something simple: there is bureaucracy at play, the teachers are underperforming and the unions cannot be explained for, sometimes maybe even in times of need for students. I don’t think a large school would underperform, in comparison to a small school because the curriculum that is rolled out annually should think about the size of the school and aim to avoid being impersonal – a logic that is often floated for large public institutions.

A small school will comparatively have a higher graduation rate than a larger school because less students go there. The issue here really is about the changing eras, I believe: Jamaica High School had no problem of securing high graduation rates, during the Second World War and post-it but since 2009, the graduation rate had been fluctuating from a 39percent to a 50percent.  With all this passionate talk about the impact of school closures, you might never know what kind of riots it might fuel in the future, all in the name of American education.

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