UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (PIX11) — For more than half a century, the Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School has served as one of the premier public high schools in the country for students at risk for not completing school. It serves teen mothers, former dropouts and people with undiagnosed emotional and mental issues, among others students. Now, the school faces the prospect of being removed from the building that was constructed for its needs, and having to move across town in order to allow a different school to take its place.
New York City’s Panel for Educational Policy votes Monday evening on a proposal to have West Side High, as it’s widely referred to, trade its custom-designed building on the Upper West Side with a space currently occupied by the Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem.
At a rally in front of West Side High on Monday afternoon, some of its students and supporters made their message clear. “West Side Stays! West Side Stays!” they shouted.
As Annalize Vega, a current student at the school, said in an interview, West Side High has created a culture and way of life that have enabled people to overcome significant educational obstacles by making education accessible.
Vega came to the school after dropping out of the public education system for a year.
“Having to travel from my house to the East Side, I would have to take four [different] trains,” she said in an interview. She said that right now, to get from her home in the Bronx to school, she only has to take one subway train.
Alyssa Cartagena, 19, is set to graduate from West Side next month. The mother of a 16-month-old boy said that the school’s facilities and programs are what made it possible for her to get her diploma, despite life challenges.
“It is going to be a lot harder for a lot of moms to come to school and to graduate” if the school is forced to move, she said.
The West 102nd Street building has hosted tours for Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and other supporters of schools for at-risk students. It has a child care center, a health clinic, a state-of-the-art gym, a student-run catering program and more programs all located on site.
The same can’t be said for the building to which the DOE has proposed that West Side High move. It’s on East 106th on the northeast corner of Park Avenue.
Currently, that space, in an office building at that location, is occupied by The Young Women’s Leadership School, or TYWLS, which is a public school that’s part of a network of schools founded and funded in part by billionaire benefactors Ann and Andrew Tisch.
The student population at TYWLS has steadily increased in recent years, while the number of students at West Side High has declined. This calendar year, however, West Side has reported an increase of 15 percent in its student population.
Current student Angel Vrdejo talked about the reasons for recent growth.
“This school gave me hope that I am going to graduate,” he said, adding that at his previous schools, he’d only attended one or two days a week, and nobody had seemed to care.
The kind of hope he’d described is supported by a spectrum of elected officials who’ve submitted letters of support for keeping the school in the building that had been designed for its mission. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, and a variety of state legislators and city councilmembers have all submitted letters to the DOE calling for the school swap to not go forward.
PIX11 News reached out to the DOE and to TYWLS for comment. Both declined.
As for West Side High, there’s plenty of commentary, from students as well as faculty and administrators.
Sarah Frank is both a special education teacher at the school and its coordinator of students.
“Our students need more support, not less, and in this proposal they get so much less,” she said. “Find [TYWLS] another building, and let us stay here.”
She was among many teachers at West Side High who pointed out that a charter school building in Central Harlem is expected to be empty in time for the next school year. They’re calling on the DOE to relocate TYWLS to that facility, or somewhere else other than the current West Side High building.
They said that they support The Young Women’s Leadership School, and its mission, just not at the expense of their own school.