BY TRONE DOWD
Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village will no longer face a looming threat of closure, school officials announced this week.
On Tuesday, Van Buren Principal Sam Sochet said that the school is officially in good standing with the state, and is no longer on its list of “priority schools”—or, institutions that have been flagged as low-performing compared to the rest of the schools in the state. Van Buren was one of 27 schools to receive such a designation, but has since been removed from the list.
With Van Buren back in good standing academically, the school will no longer get specialized funding from the state for improvement.
Sochet told the PRESS of Southeast Queens in December that he was “incredibly proud” of the progress that the school was making. Sochet took up the leadership role at the school in the summer of 2012, at the same time that Van Buren became a priority school. The principal gave credit to the community for its support in helping to turn things around at the school.
“When a community can come together and work together in this way, great things can be accomplished,” Sochet said. “It’s really a monumental achievement.”
With the school no longer receiving specialized funds from the state, Sochet noted on Tuesday that the school will “continue to grow with continued focus on programming, technology and physical upgrades.”
Elected officials and community representatives from Southeast Queens said that the community was relieved to hear of Van Buren’s improved standing. Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) noted the school’s pedigree.
“Martin Van Buren High School has produced two Nobel Award winners,” Grodenchik said. “And under the leadership of Principal Sam Sochet, we are working together to bring the school back as a strong and vibrant educational institution in our community.”
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said that Martin Van Buren High School’s turnaround is “an example of how public investment and community participation can make significant improvements in our students’ lives.”
Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) said that Van Buren is exemplary of the type of progress that he hopes to see for every struggling school in Southeast Queens.
“It is important to invest in these children to assure that they are given the proper tools and skill set to soar in the next generation,” Vanel said.
Clyde’s colleague, Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), praised the work of the school’s leadership.
“I have witnessed Sam Sochet’s dedication and belief in his administration throughout the years since he began his tenure as principal at Van Buren, and I thank all the students and parents who have been in support of the school from the very beginning,” Weprin said.
When Van Buren was first placed on the list of priority schools, the state specified that it was struggling with low attendance, state test scores—such as the regents—and below average graduation rates. Since then, all of these aspects of the school have improved upwards of two percent. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) said that Van Buren’s turnaround is proof that closing down a school is often not the way to go.
“This is an example of why we at the UFT do not believe in closing schools,” said Dermot Smyth, the union’s Queens political action coordinator. “Given the opportunity and the resources, all schools can be successful.”
Reach reporter Trone Dowd via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Queens Tribune at (718) 357-7400, ext. 122.