Students rally at 5.5-year-old high school already facing closure

Students and parents rally outside Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory Academy today. Photo by Emma Hulse.

Less than six years old, Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory School is the small-schools dinosaur on its campus — and it could be on the verge of extinction.

After just barely escaping an F on its latest report card, the DOE placed Cypress Hills Collegiate on a shortlist of schools that could be shuttered due to poor performance. The school had gotten an F on its first progress report grade in 2010.

Today, students rallied in front of the Franklin K. Lane building, where Cypress Hills Collegiate shares space with three other schools, to defend their school. The protest was the latest in a series of events supported by the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has helped community members at a number of schools at risk of being closed push back against the DOE’s characterization that the schools are low-performing. On Tuesday, parents and elected officials representing 15 of the 47 schools will bring that message to the DOE’s Manhattan headquarters.

Before the rally, student organizers told me that Cypress Hills Collegiate would be more successful if there were more computers and elective courses and if students could use the building’s library.

“It’s not being used at all,” said sophomore Odalis Rojas about the library. Rojas belongs to the Future of Tomorrow youth organization run by the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, which founded Cypress Hills Collegiate. “It is there for no reason.”

Gabriel Cano, a senior on Cypress Hills Collegiate’s student government, said instruction had grown more challenging during his time at the school. But it had also become less interesting, he said, with budget cuts causing the school to cancel cooking and sign language classes and reduce extracurricular activities.

“Now that those entertaining classes are gone student attendance has dropped,” Cano said. “When you take away those kinds of things it narrows our view.”

Asked why the city is be considering Cypress Hills Collegiate for closure but not other schools in the building, Rojas said, “That’s the same question that we’re trying to ask ourselves.”

Cano offered a theory. He said that while Multicultural High School attracts new immigrants and the Academy of Innovative Technology draws tech-minded students, Cypress Hills Collegiate students are a diverse group.

“Cypress takes in kids that come not prepared, not knowing what they’re going to do,” Cano said. “It’s just a different batch of students that come to Cypress.”

Last year, the city’s Independent Budget Office concluded that schools the city was then trying to close enrolled higher proportions of high-needs students.


In fact, Cypress Hills Collegiate’s performance data aren’t much different from that of some of the other schools on the Franklin K. Lane campus, but the schools did not fall under the closure guidelines for other reasons. Two of the schools, Innovative Technology and Brooklyn Lab, are too new to have received progress reports. The only other school on the campus old enough to receive a grade was Multicultural, whose low C came mostly because of extra credit earned for immigrant students’ performance. Just 2 percent of the school’s first class were considered “college-ready” according to the city’s metrics. Its founding principal, Altagracia Liciaga, was removed in September after requiring students to ride in the back of a moving truck.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.