Bryant is among the 33 schools considered for the turnaround method – which would give the building a new name and eliminate 50 percent of its staff come September.
A schools is slated for the turnaround method when it has been on the state's Persistently Low Achieving list, meaning graduation rates were below 60 percent for the last three years.
Under the method, all of the staff would have to reapply for their jobs next year, but only about 50 percent would be chosen by an Education Department panel to continue working there. However, schools that are selected for turnaround are eligible for up to $2 million in extra federal funding.
Sotiria Zouroudis, a senior at Bryant and president of its student government, said although the 500 seniors graduating this year would leave the school as Owls, referring to their mascot, she wants the younger and future students to do the same.
“They say that this new method that they want to bring in is not going to affect our students, of course it's going to affect our students,” she said to the crowd before the hearing started. “Our teachers that we grew to rely on, they're gone, coaches that are coaching our teams, they might get fired.
“Now who are we going to turn to?” Zouroudis added. “We won't have that person that we could go to in certain situations to talk to if we're having problems.”
The turnaround proposal at Bryant sparked a particularly loud outcry in Long Island City, largely because many of the local representatives are alumni, including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinidis, and Central Astoria Local Development Coalition Board President George Stamatiadis.
In the hearing, Van Bramer spoke in the school's auditorium 25 years after he graduated.
“This is not a failing school, this is a school where success happens every single day,” he said.
He said more students graduate and go on to college from Bryant than from many other high schools in Queens.
In addition, Van Bramer said its attendance is strong and the number of kids who graduate with Regents diplomas rises every year.
If half the school's staff is cut, those numbers could fall, he added.
“They're good teachers, they're dedicated teachers, they have dedicated their lives,” he said, “and they are making a difference.”
Teachers who spoke at the hearing argued that they haven't had enough time to prove that they can put the school on a better path.
One teacher, Anna Balash, said the city didn't clearly communicate to staff in any of the schools slated for closure what they were expected to do to improve them.
“If you want to institute major change in educational approaches, you have to really invest in your teaching staff and give professional development that really matters and really works with enough time allotted for the changes to be understood and implemented,” Balash said. “This has not been the case.”
But not everyone at the hearing agreed that Bryant High School should be left as is.
One parent, who declined to give her name for fear that she and her son, a freshman at Bryant, would be ostracized for her opinion, said the school needs a change.
“The kids can only be affected in a good way,” she said.
The parent said she graduated from Long Island City High School – which is also on the city's turnaround list – and her brother graduated from Bryant.
Students are different now, she said. There are still the A-plus students in every school, but there are also those who are looking to drop out to make time for a job.
“You need to be able to teach and treat both the same,” she said. “They will hire teachers more suitable to teach kids in this neighborhood.”
The parent said she is not concerned that the school will lose its programs, because it is slated to receive more funding under the turnaround method, but is worried about the building losing its name and Owl mascot.
Losing favored teachers is also not a concern, she said, because there is always the risk that they will transfer or retire.
“You don't stay in a school because of one teacher, you stay in school because of the whole curriculum,” the parent said. “It's a fresh start, let's do it, we've got to get the school into a better situation.”
The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the turnaround proposals for all 33 schools on Thursday, April 26, at 6 p.m. at the Prospect Heights Campus, 883 Classon Avenue.
The hearing for the turnaround proposal at Long Island City High School will be held on Tuesday, April 17, at 6 p.m. in the school’s auditorium.