Peralta calls for new school for immigrants

Jose Peralta

December 16, 2010

Times Ledger

A few days after former Hearst Magazines Chairwoman Cathie Black received her waiver to become city schools chancellor, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) already had a potential assignment.

Peralta said in a letter to Black dated Dec. 3 that he wanted her to consider establishing an immigrant school near Newtown High School at 48-01 90th St. in Elmhurst. The school’s future has been in question, and Peralta said creating this new school could help with the overcrowding at Newtown.

“With immigrant English-language learners who would otherwise attend Newtown receiving the intensive language-development help they need in a different setting, Newtown could provide more individualized and direct services to students,” Peralta said in his letter to Black.

Newtown said it would not comment on Peralta’s plan.

The DOE said in a statement the city already has successful schools for immigrants in Queens.

“We will work with the senator as we try to turn around Newtown High School and bring more quality options for English language learners and families all across Queens,” the DOE said.

The New York State Education Department recently placed Newtown High School on its Persistently Lowest Achieving list, which means the school is required by law to implement a major intervention to turn it around either by redesigning or replacing it, converting it to a charger school, transforming the school or closing the school. Newtown students held a rally against closing the school Nov. 26.

Peralta said his office has been working with the United Federation of Teachers and the DOE on possible ways to transform the school. While the school is not at the point where it needs to close, graduation rates at Newtown are around 50 percent to 52 percent and the school has many English language-learner students.

“They’re very smart individuals, but they need to get over the language barrier,” Peralta said.

To solve the problem, Peralta has recommended creating a school for immigrants similar to the Pan American International HS at 45-10 94th St. in Elmhurst and the International HS at LaGuardia Community College at 31-10 Thomson Ave. in Long Island City. 

He said in the letter this would allow Newtown, whose enrollment is one-third greater than capacity, to send its approximately 1,000 English language-learner students to the new school so both immigrant students who would otherwise attend Newtown and English-speaking students could get better services for their needs.

“If we pushed the immigrant school concept, it would be very feasible because it works, and we would get a lot of assistance on the federal level,” Peralta said.

He said expanding the capacity of immigrant high schools could be a possibility, but a new school would be better as the combined capacity of Pan American and LaGuardia’s school is less than 1,000 students. He said a location for the school would need to be identified.

Black has not yet responded to the letter, Peralta said, but many parents of students at Newtown are concerned about the school possibly closing.

“So we need to get answers as quickly as possible,” Peralta said.

by Rebecca Henely