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SAVE E.A.R. Westside High School - The City's First (Alternative) Transfer School
An NYCDOE proposal to re-site the school threatens its legacy and equitable access to the wrap-around services that it currently offers as a safe haven for some of our city's most vulnerable students.
Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, New York City's first alternative high school, is fighting to stay in their school building on the Upper West Side.
For 50 years, West Side High School has served young people who have struggled in traditional high school settings. This includes some of the most vulnerable young people in New York City: young parents, gang-involved youth, homeless youth, and young people with learning disabilities.
Citing declined enrollment numbers, the DOE is proposing to move West Side High School into part of a converted office building on the East Side. West Side High School's current building also houses a LYFE Center Daycare program for students who are young parents as well as a health clinic in partnership with the Ryan Center. Neither of these programs would be offered in the new facility, ending an over fifty year partnership between West Side High School, LYFE, and the Ryan Center.
Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School serves young people from all over the city who have struggled in traditional high school settings. It is the oldest Transfer (formerly known as Alternative) School in the city with a history on the Upper West Side for over 50 years. West Side’s students are often at the intersections of multiple systemic failures, making them among the most vulnerable and marginalized young people in the city. West Side High School serves young people who have children of their own, who have learning and socio-emotional disabilities, who have been incarcerated, who are unhoused, who are gang-involved, and who have been pushed out of other schools. Despite the challenges West Side’s students face, they continue to pursue their educational goals. They are remarkable and inspiring.
The building at 140 West 102nd Street was designed specifically for West Side High School by its founding principal, Ed Reynolds. Ed knew that the students he worked with needed what is now known as a community school: wraparound services housed inside their building. To this end, as mentioned prior, West Side has an on-site health clinic and LYFE center daycare. In recent years, a GED program has been added to the building as well, providing an added support for struggling students.
The DOE plans to keep these services in the building while moving West Side to The Young Women’s Leadership School (04M610) building, referred to as TYWLS, a district secondary school currently serving students in grades 6-12. TYWLS would move into Westside’s current building. The NYCDOE claims that West Side students can travel across town to access these services. Any New Yorker can tell you that cross-town travel is not equal access, especially with a baby in tow.
Perhaps most important, however, are serious safety concerns voiced by West Side students, families, and the community in Frederick Douglass Houses. The city has serious gang violence issues that are referred to as “Op Warfare.” The current landscape of these issues pits different housing projects and neighborhoods against each other, making it unsafe for some young people to travel in very specific areas. Our school community has a decades long relationship with the community in Frederick Douglass Houses, which makes it safe for our students to travel to and from school. Moving our students to the East Side exposes them to a different group of NYCHA houses and different and unsafe gang dynamics. This cannot be understated: Carmen Quinones, President of Douglass Houses, has said that this move “puts a target on our kids backs” and that those involved with the move “will have blood on their hands.” Young people who are involved in gangs and have been previously incarcerated deserve to go to school safely.
In the Educational Impact Statement (EIS) and discussion of this proposed re-siting, the DOE has misrepresented factual information about West Side High School, including erroneously underreporting our daily attendance and enrollment of our students in the LYFE program. The EIS paints an inequitable picture of West Side, ignoring West Side’s achievements and downplaying the negative impact of the proposed swap. We have highlighted those changes in this document.
Like schools all over the city, our enrollment has suffered during the pandemic. In fact, many of the things that bring young people to transfer schools like West Side have been put on hold through the pandemic and are just now resurfacing. Regents exams are only now becoming a graduation requirement; West Side has historically served students who struggle to pass Regents exams and are not on track to graduate in traditional high schools. Attendance concerns were largely suspended during the pandemic as hundreds of students went AWOL during remote school. Students with attendance issues are often counseled to seek transfer schools like West Side.
The city needs to support schools like West Side High School to rebuild enrollment and access additional resources. The DOE can find other suitable buildings for TYWLS to have adequate classroom, counseling, Special Education, and extra curricular space without taking resources from West Side High School students. In fact, West Side High School’s building may not have the growth capacity that TYWLS is seeking. When we had 600 students enrolled, the hallways and classrooms were packed.
One potential site for TYWLS is Harlem Hebrew Charter School, which is leaving its spacious building on West 118th Street. That building could provide space for TYWLS including a gymnasium and auditorium without displacing West Side High School.
This proposed building swap has sparked outcry from West Side’s students, parents, alumni and community supporters. Over 70 students, alumni and family members attended an in-person Community Engagement Meeting on March 28th at the school. Over 50 people gave testimonial at the Joint Public Hearing on April 4th.
You can learn more about this from the following news articles and statements:
West Side High School has also received the written support of the following elected officials: City Council Member Gale Brewer, City Council Member Diana Ayala, City Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan, City Council Member Shaun Abreu, State Senator Robert Jackson, and State Senator Cordell Cleare.
It is clear that the will and desire of the people is to support West Side High School to remain in the building at 140 West 102nd Street.
The inequity is glaring. Instead of supporting West Side High School and helping to connect more young people with a second (or third or fourth) chance to graduate, the DOE has failed to provide help to the school. The statistics cited by the DOE to justify this move are lopsided, painting an incomplete picture of West Side High School’s purpose and work in an attempt to justify a move to an inferior building with fewer resources.
West Side High School has a multi-generational legacy building community and serving as a second home for young people at the intersections of systemic failures. School systems that fail to comprehensively meet students' needs will always need transfer schools. As NYC public schools attempt to address multiple social crises, West Side High School should be invested in to help provide creative solutions. Instead, the DOE is taking advantage of a vulnerable population with this proposal.
On Monday, May 1, 2023, the Panel for Educational Policy will make a decision on this matter. We hope the proposal will be pulled from the agenda prior. We urge Mayor Eric Adams, Chancellor David Banks and First Deputy Chancellor, Dan Weisberg, to change their minds — and change course.
Readers can take the actions below to bring added pressure to the decision-makers.
If need be, we ask all who are seeking to save Westside to join this upcoming PEP meeting to share your concerns and ask its members to not vote for this proposal during public testimony. This meeting will begin promptly at 6:00 p.m. If you would like to access this meeting via computer, please visit: https://www.learndoe.org/pep/may01/.
Five Other Actions You Can Take Now
Reject the DOE's proposal to move West Side and support West Side increasing wraparound services for students. Full petition linked here.
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