Once the largest high school in the U.S., Queens’ Jamaica High had only 24 students in its final graduation class, writes Jelani Cobb in The Life and Death of Jamaica High School in The New Yorker.
Cobb, who went to Jamaica High in its prime, earned a diploma in 1987 and went on to Howard.
The New York City Department of Education closed the once respected high school due to “persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent,” he writes. Four new “small schools” now share the old building.
The high school started to slip when talented students in northern Queens were given the option of attending two other schools, a magnet and an exam school, on college campuses, Cobb writes.
In 2004, the Bloomberg administration let students apply to any high school in the city. Savvy parents found the best schools. Less-savvy parents took what was left.
Once a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix, Jamaica High became 99 percent minority and 63 percent low-income in the year before it closed.
In Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, hunger strikers hope to save Dyett High School, a low-performing school that has lost students to competing schools.
A community group wants to run it as a neighborhood school with a focus on “leadership and green technology.” The principal envisions a school with an sports theme. Another proposal would create an arts theme.
“Schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships, writes Eve Ewing. “Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.”
Bronzeville parents have been choosing alternatives to Dyett for years now, just as Queens parents have been choosing alternatives to Jamaica High. Can they be persuaded to return to the neighborhood school?