Far Rockaway High School Scheduled to Close

December 5, 2007

The news released today that Far Rockaway High School will be closing has made its way around the Internet with lightning speed.  I am reprinting the letters I have received today and will be posting additional information as I receive it.

Skip Weinstock    Email Address:  rockaway@astound.net

The Demise of a Community Institution Is Always Sad
by Howard Schwach, Rockaway Wave Newspaper, 12/14/07

On November 10, 1947, 60 years ago, Far Rockaway High School celebrated its 50th, or golden anniversary. The gala anniversary dinner-dance was held at the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan.

The dinner that night included fruit cocktail, cream of mushroom soup, roast turkey, cranberries and giblet gravy, string beans, mixed green salad, ice cream and cake, as well as coffee.

Among the hundreds who attended were my mother and father, Roz and Stanley Schwach. My father was FRHS, class of 1929. He was one of the students who walked from the temporary school at PS 42 in Arverne to the “new building” on Bay 25 Street the first day it opened in 1929. My mother was FRHS, class of 1934. I was FRHS, class of 1957. My wife, Susan, was FRHS, class of 1960. My son, Rob, was FRHS, class of 1983.

That is why you might see a teardrop on this paper. Far Rockaway High School is being phased out by the Department of Education. Coming soon, a new school called The Far Rockaway Educational Campus. No more Far Rockaway High School.

In the program given out on that night long ago in Manhattan was a section called “Far Rockaway Looks Ahead.”  The final paragraph of that section read, “Far Rockaway High School is fortunate in that it holds the respect and affection of its alumni and the parents of its students. It is not enough for a school to keep abreast of the times. Far Rock-away must look ahead.”  Now, we are all alumni without an alma mater.

There is a long list of FRHS graduates who should be remembered.  Baruch Samuel Blumberg won the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine.  Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1976. He was involved with the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bombs and ended World War II.
Burton Richter won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.  There are not many high schools that can claim three men who won Nobel Prizes in the sciences. Now, there is one less.

Then, there were the countless sports stars who left Far Rockaway for stardom on the collegiate level, and even a few who made the pros. Off the top of my head, I can think of Nancy Lieberman, the Bayswater kid who came off the play-grounds of Bayswater to become the first legitimate female basketball star, and John Warren, who played for the New York Knicks and other teams before becoming a major player in the financial world.

Of course, there’s Joyce Brothers and Carl Icahn, Jonas Salk and Richard Cohen (the Washington Post columnist). The list could go on and on. “What high school did you go to?” “Oh, it no longer exists. They scrapped it in 2008.”  Sad!

Ten years ago, in October of 1997, there was a 100th anniversary weekend that included a Friday night dinner, a Saturday morning breakfast at the Beach Club on Beach 116 Street, followed by a motorcade to the school for the day’s football game. There were more than 100 cars in the procession. That night, there was a dinner at a Nassau County hotel that was so crowded that it was impossible to find anybody you were looking for. There were literally thousands of people at the events, all of them coming back to Rockaway to remember their high school years.  That is what the school means to its graduates.

Perhaps they should do what the government did with my ship, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). When they scrapped it in the early 1970’s at the Philadelphia Shipyard, they invited all of those who had served on the ship to come and take a piece of the ship away. They could tear down the building, wipe out all memory of the school and give individual bricks to those who could prove they graduated from the school.

There are those, of course, who say that the school deserves to be closed down. That it was no longer serving an educational purpose.  One person who I interviewed for the front-page story last week, an educator who asked not to be identified for obvious reasons, put it most succinctly.  “They haven’t graduated anybody but felons for years,” he said.  Perhaps he’s right and that’s sad.

The fault lies in lots of directions. When the Board of Education set its policy of every high school as a magnet school, it mostly destroyed the zoned schools such as Far Rockaway. Everybody who could get out, did so, leaving at the school only those who could not be accepted anywhere else.
When I attended Far Rockaway High School, there were three sessions. Freshman went to school from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. There were more than 2,500 students.  Today, there are 865 students in the building.

There are also two other schools in the Far Rockaway High School building on Bay 25 Street, each with its own principal, its own administrators, and its own students.  According to a present staff member, those two schools, Frederick Douglass Academy VI, a high school with 268 students and Knowledge And Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA VI) with 159 students, get all of the gold mine while the old Far Rockaway High School gets the shaft.  “We got no support from the DOE,” the staffer said. “Everything went to the mayor’s pet projects in other parts of the building.”  The school got D on its recent progress report card.

The report card showed that 30 percent of the students graduated in a five-year period. Only 17 percent got a Re-gent’s Diploma on graduation. Only 34 percent of the students met standards on standardized tests. When asked in a survey, only 23 percent of the students, teachers and parents who responded believed that there was a culture of safety and respect in the building.  In other words, the school is probably not meeting its mandate of educating students.  That fault, however, lies with the students and their parents, not with the school, the teachers or the administrators.  Two years ago, in an attempt to turn the school around, the DOE reorganized it, firing more than 75 percent of its staff and hiring all new teachers.  It made no difference.

Neither will closing it down and making it into five or six smaller schools. They will be dealing with largely the same kids. It’s the kids that make the school what it is, not the staff.  Want proof? Take the staff and administration from a high school that got an A on its report card and put them in Far Rockaway High School. Give them a few years, if they last that long.  They will make no difference.  It’s the kids, stupid. And their parents.

It is long past time that the DOE should understand that and set some standards and accountability for those two groups rather than closing schools and firing their staff.  That would make a real difference. In fact, in this city, it is the only thing that will make a difference.

I have long held the belief that 50 percent of the city’s public school students get the best education in the world. They come from homes that value education and therefore, they learn.  There is another 20 percent that might be turned on to education by a good teacher or a good administrator.  The other 30 percent will never learn, no matter what the DOE does, because they come from a background that does not value education but denigrates it at every turn.

The liberal ideal that “All Children Can Learn,” is not close to being true. When our school officials begin to realize that, then we can get on the real road to a better educational system.


I found your email address on the Far Rockaway alumni site. The Department of Education today announced that they are closing the school over the next few years, and I was hoping to talk to someone who remembers how it used to be. If you’d like to talk today, I can be reached at the number listed below. Thanks

Carrie Melago - Education reporter - New York Daily News - 212-210-1556  - Email Address:  cMelago@nydailynews.com

Queens high school, Bronx elementary school to close
due to poor report cards


Thursday, December 6th 2007, 4:00 AM

A Queens high school and a Bronx elementary school are on the chopping block after getting poor report cards, officials said Wednesday.

Far Rockaway High School, beloved by alums but suffering from low graduation rates, and Public School 220 in the Bronx were the latest schools to learn they're being shuttered.

Six other schools were told Tuesday they'll be closed or phased out as a result of poor performance on the first-ever report cards.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum yesterday criticized the administration for not consulting school communities or holding public meetings before making decisions.

"These closings have a devastating and destabilizing effect on the community," she said. "The DOE shouldn't make these decisions without input from parents and the larger community."

But Mayor Bloomberg defended the closures, saying the schools needed a new start.

"We just can't sit here and let a school that does not do what it's supposed to do continue on its merry way," he said.

Thought you might like to know that Far Rockaway High School is officially being phased out. There will be no new entries in the school in September. The building will revert to the "Far Rockaway Educational Campus," and will include at least three, and probably five of the mayor's "small schools." Look for the story on page one in this week's Wave. This has been confirmed by the DOE.

FRHS Going....  Going....  Gone!
by Howard Schwach
Rockaway Wave Newspaper

More than 110 years after it began in a wing of PS 42 in Arverne, Far Rockaway High School is slated for extinction over the next two years. The school’s present site will morph into a multi-school complex to be called the Far Rockaway Educational Campus, school officials say.

“The school hasn’t been serving student needs for years,” Melanie Meyers, a spokesperson for the Department of Education told The Wave on Wednesday. “We are phasing out the school because drastic changes are needed in order for the school to serve students well.”

Meyers said that the renamed educational complex would include several schools, including the two that already share the Bay 25 Street building with FRHS.

They are the Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School, which enrolls 347 students in grades 9 to 12, and the Knowledge And Power Preparatory Academy VI, which enrolls 159 students in grades 6 and 7. FRHS currently enrolls 865 students in grades 9 through 12. Each of the schools has its own principal, administrative staff and teachers.

A new, small school, probably a middle school, will open in September 2008, officials said. It will be joined in September of 2009 by a new high school unit.

The phase out of FRHS will begin in September, when no new freshman students will be enrolled. It will take three years, officials say, for the building, and the name, to be completely phased out, because students who began at the school last September have the right to remain there through graduation. The last graduating class from FRHS will leave in June of 2011.

The reaction to the word that the high school would be closing was varied.  One alumnus told The Wave that the school had been stagnant for years and that something drastic had to happen. “All the school has graduated for years are felons,” the alumnus, who asked not to be identified, said.

When told of the closings, however, Steve Berman, one-time Seahorse quarterback and a star pitcher on the baseball team in the 1950s, said that it was sad that a school with such a rich history was coming to an end.

“There is so much history there, Nobel Laureates, city championships, tens of thousands of alumni,” Berman said. “You’d think that they could do something to keep the name alive.”
A present staff member, who asked not to be identified, argued that the Department of Education had not done enough to help the school stay alive.

“There is a good core group of young teachers in the building who have been trying to work with the kids,” the staffer said. “From day one, however, all the support has gone to the other schools in the building. We were neglected, both physically and educationally. I think that this was the plan from day one. If so, they should have been more honest with us. The DOE supports its pet projects and the rest of us are left out in the cold and then discarded.”

“What’s going to happen to the at-risk kids who go here,” he asked. “What about the English language learners and the special ed kids who can’t go to the small schools? What will happen with them?”

City Councilman James Sanders, FRHS class of 1975, said that his alma mater is “near and dear” to him, but that he would not “let his sentiment stand in the way if the DOE proves to him that the school must be closed.”

Sanders said on Thursday that he was calling for an emergency meeting at the school with Department of Education officials to explain why it must be closed and why the community had no input into the process. He was still awaiting confirmation on meeting specifics at press time, he said.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum criticized the Department of Education for not consulting the impacted communities before making the cut. She argues that the DOE should have held public hearings in Rockaway before actually making the announcement that the school would be phased out.

“These closing have a devastating and destabilizing effect on the community,” she said. “The DOE shouldn’t make these decisions without input from parents and the larger community.”
Mayor Mike Bloomberg, pointing out that the school received a D on its recent school progress report, said, “We can’t just sit here and let a school that does not do what it’s supposed to do to continue on its merry way.”

Meyers said that all of the schools in the building would contribute to the present sports program and that the campus would field teams in several sports, as they do now.

Howie Schwach, Class of '57      Email Address:  editor@rockawave.com  
Managing Editor
The Wave
Photos courtesy of the Wave Newspaper - Subscribe to the Wave at http://www.rockawave.com/

Students at the school in its early years show pride in FRHS

The first faculty of Far Rockaway High School, circa 1897, sits in front of the school

You may be interested to know that the DOE is closing Far Rock.  There are currently two other schools in Far Rock. They will remain, but Far Rockaway High school will be taking no new freshman class.  In 4 years there will be no school known as "Far Rockaway High School"

Ray Taruskin, Class of 69    Email Address:  rtaruskin@nyc.rr.com
Teacher at Far Rock from 1973 to 2005
Dean from 1996 to 2005
Chapter leader from 1996 to 2005

I referee high school girls basketball in NYC. Yesterday I did a game at "The Rock" and was given this info by the coach, who knows that I am alum. At 2 PM yesterday ( 12/4 ) there was a rapid dismissal followed by a faculty conference. The principal notified the faculty that as Sept. 2008 there will be no more incoming freshmen to Far Rockaway High School. When the current students graduate, or leave, Far Rockaway High School will no longer exist!!!!! As a retired NYC high school assistant principal ( Long Island City ) I can tell you that this is the way that the current Chancellor and Department of Education ( it's no longer the Board of Education ) operates. This is their way to "help" schools that are failing to graduate students at their "required" rate. Our alma mater is not the first to fall victim to this type of reorganization.

Steve Lewin, Class of '66    Email Address: PEBOSSLIC@AOL.COM

Two More Schools to Close for Bad Performance
Published: December 6, 2007

The Department of Education announced yesterday that it planned to close Far Rockaway High School in Queens and Public School 220 in the Bronx, weeks after both schools received poor marks under the city’s new school-grading system. P.S. 220, also known as the Mott Haven Village School, will shut its doors at the end of this school year, and Far Rockaway will stop accepting new students and be phased out over the next four years. The Mott Haven school has been plagued with problems for several years — in 2004, the city decided to restructure it by eliminating the middle school grades there. Both of the schools had already been on the state’s list of failing schools in danger of being shut down. Officials said they expect to announce within the next week up to 12 more schools to be closed.


Bari Randal, Class of 74 here. I stumbled upon the  announcement below on NY1.com today here in NY. Since so many Rockawayites are no longer here in NY, thought I'd pass the news along. I suppose it will come as no surprise to most of us, FRHS hasn't been living up to its potential for some time. Nevertheless, I'm sure I won't be the only one interested, and at least a bit saddened, by the news of the official passing of our high school.  Regards,


P.S. 220, Far Rockaway High School Among Those Set To Close
December 06, 2007

Just one day after it was announced that six city schools would be shut down or phased out, two more schools were added to the chopping block Wednesday.

The Department of Education announced that Far Rockaway High School in Queens and P.S. 220 in the Bronx have been added to the list.

All of the schools received Ds or Fs on the city's first school report cards. The facilities are now slated for re-organization.

The most recent schools added to the list are Far Rockaway High School in Queens and P.S. 220 in the Bronx.

For some students, the news is hard to handle.

"Well, actually, it's kind of shocking because I never pictured the school closing,” said P.S. 220 graduate Zoraida Rosado. “And it is surprising to me because when I was in the school, we used to do all fun activities. We would do work, and we’d actually get good grades. And it's pretty shocking to see that their going to close down the school. It hurts."

The middle and high schools set to close will stop accepting new students, although current students will be allowed to graduate.

The elementary schools will close at the end of the school year and re-open with new names and possibly new administrators.

Far Rockaway High to close its doors
Friday, December 7th 2007, 4:00 AM

Far Rockaway High School alumni were saddened Thursday by the news that the once-mighty academic and athletic powerhouse will be phased out of existence because of slumping graduation rates and poor scholastic performance.

Several notable graduates bemoaned the school's closing, and mourned the impending loss of their once-illustrious alma mater.

"It was everything a public school should be," said Far Rockaway grad and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, 66, who plans to attend his 50-year reunion next year. "We were the beneficiaries of a great education, for free."

The school will stop accepting ninth-graders this year, and students currently enrolled will be allowed to graduate, said an Education Department spokeswoman.

The building will be renamed the Far Rockaway Educational Campus, and will house as many as four smaller high schools in coming years.

The school's alums include billionaire financier Carl Icahn and Nobel Prize winners Richard Feynman, Baruch Blumberg and Burton Richter.

"We had some of the best teachers in the world," said Kenneth Ribet, 59, a mathematician at the University of California at Berkeley and 1965 graduate. "It's sad, but times have changed and institutions have to evolve."

Psychologist and advice columnist Dr. Joyce Brothers graduated from the school in three years - a good deal of which she spent flirting, she joked.

"I was pretty sassy, paying more attention to boys than to my studies," said Brothers, a 1943 graduate who commuted to the school from Long Island. "I went back a couple of years ago and they gave me a special day. It was really wonderful."

The school also was an athletic powerhouse, winning the city football championship on more than one occasion.

"Far Rockaway High School made me who I am," said 1976 grad and basketball great Nancy Lieberman, 49. "It allowed me to excel athletically."

Lieberman, now a commentator for ESPN, revisited the school nearly 15 years ago with pal Martina Navratilova, and taught the tennis star how to play stickball in the school's gymnasium.

The high school's athletic program will live on as the new schools at the campus will compete together under the banner of Far Rockaway High School.

"I can't believe (Schools Chancellor) Joel Klein did this to me," said Cohen with a chuckle. "I'm so choked up. I'm taking this personally. Joel Klein couldn't have even gotten into Far Rockaway High School."

Goodbye FRHS
December 7, 2007

The Department of Education is closing Far Rockaway High School. The school had dozens of notable alumni including three Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Carl Icahn, Nancy Lieberman and a host of others.

The school’s graduation rate and safety record have been less than stellar for a number of years, so I guess the DOE is doing the right thing by taking a new approach to education in Far Rockaway.

This morning I had the pleasure of speaking to Nobel laureate Burton Richter, who attended FRHS for two years and recently retired from Stanford University.

“I can’t believe the whole thing fell apart,” said Richter, who won the prize in 1976 for his pioneering work in physics. “Far Rockaway was a small town in a big city…It’s sad news. I thought the new principal would succeed in raising it from the dead. Apparently she didn’t. ”

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