Apr 8 2011
The Khalil Gibran International Academy, a controversial Arabic-language middle school in Brooklyn, NY— founded after a highly divisive public battle that involved curriculum, staffing and even whether the school would churn out terrorists — will be closed by the city for its piss poor performance and failure to attract enough students.
Here’s the timeline from start to demise:
• February, 2007: The city announces that the Khalil Gibran International Academy will be located somewhere in Brooklyn.
• March, 2007: The fight begins as the city announces that the academy will share space inside PS 282 in Park Slope.
• April, 2007: The outrage begins: Daniel Pipes, a commentator on radical Islam, writes that “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.” A week later, the city announces that the school won’t be in Park Slope.
• May, 2007: The school is officially moved to Boerum Hill.
• September, 2007: The first day of school was covered by practically more media than were in Little Rock for the desegregation of the high school.
• August, 2007: Founding principal Debbie Almontaser resigns amid pressure from the city after she didn’t forcefully condemn a T-shirt reading, “Intifada NYC.” The city appoints non-Arabic speaker, Danielle Salzberg, to replace Almontaser.
• November, 2007: Almontaser sues the city for violating her free speech.
• January, 2008: The school gets its third principal, Holly Reichart, who replaces Salzberg.
• March, 2008: School relocated to the PS 287 building in Fort Greene.
• April, 2008: Parents there say they feel “bamboozled” after learning that the academy would be housed inside their Navy Street building.
• March, 2010: Almontaser is vindicated when a federal commission rules that the city “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel” when it forced Almontaser to resign.
• THIS WEEK: The city plans to kill the Gibran middle school and try to turn it into a high school.
BROOKLYN PAPER –Under the current proposal, the Department of Education would essentially put the Khalil Gibran International Academy out of its misery after the school “struggled to recruit and retain middle school students.”
Worse, the school’s most recent report card gave it F marks for both “student performance” and “student progress.”
The city will now try to turn the Arabic-language and culture school into a high school, and move it from its current location on Navy Street in Fort Greene to the Metropolitan Corporate Academy building on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown.
At a hearing on Monday night to discuss the death of the middle school, no teachers and only two parents showed up to defend the current program — a far cry from 2007, when supporters eagerly rallied for the Gibran Academy after opponents trashed the school with claims that its Islamic-centered instruction would inevitably glorify violence.
It’s a stunning fall from prominence for the school, which was founded by Debbie Almontaser in a seemingly bulletproof partnership with New Visions for Public Schools, which had created more than 100 small schools in the city. But the Arabic-language and culture curriculum was almost immediately under fire from anti-Arab conservatives as well as some liberals who were concerned about segregating public education.
When she was forced out by the Department of Education, the New York Post could barely hide its glee: “Intif-adios to school chief,” the headline said. A federal panel later ruled that the city had discriminated against Almontaser for violating her free speech rights, but she never returned to the school, which is now on its third principal and third location.
The school, without Almontaser at the head, enrolled its first class in shared space in Boerum Hill before
moving to Fort Greene two years ago. But neither location complemented the Arabic program; only 1 percent of the population in the neighborhood around the current location is of Arab descent, according to the Census Bureau. As a result, enrollment has plummeted.
“The number of students attending the school each year has substantially declined,” the city said, citing 60 sixth-graders in 2007 compared to the mere 35 this year. “In 2010, Khalil Gibran … received the lowest number of sixth grade applications in District 13. Only 18 percent of students who applied to Khalil Gibran ranked it within their top three choices. Declining enrollment … suggests that District 13 families are seeking other options better matched to their interests and needs.”
But the Academy could thrive as a high school program, city officials said.
“The school’s goal is to prepare students for college and successful careers and to foster an understanding of different cultures, a love of learning, and desire for excellence in all of its students,” the Education Department said.