The current climate at Harlem’s famed Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts is about to change dramatically, as the Department of Education and the Panel for Educational Policy have voted on decisions that will forever affect the school.
On Feb. 1 of last year, a vote to co-locate the school was finalized. This will bring in fifth, sixth and seventh grade students from the Harlem Success Academy. On Feb. 9 of this year, a move to truncate the school will be voted upon. If passed, Wadleigh’s middle school (grades six-eight) will be phased out one grade each year, starting this fall with the sixth grade.
This process is practically a done deal, as history has shown that once any vote goes to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), very rarely does it not go through.
The criteria for such decisions and the voting process itself are questionable. There could be as many as 10 or 12 schools facing a variety of dilemmas, having to appear before the panel to present their issues and make their case. But this scenario does not offer enough time to properly address the unique problems and possible solutions on how to resolve them.
The decision to co-locate and likely truncate Wadleigh is based on a 2010-2011 progress report that stated that Wadleigh’s middle school grades were not up to acceptable standards. However, the decision to truncate or phase out a school usually happens after three years of substandard performance. So why exactly is there a rush to phase out these grades at Wadleigh while other schools with similar shortfalls have not been touched?
Wadleigh was originally a high school before becoming a junior high school and, finally, a secondary school. In 2000, Wadleigh was the only school on its campus with 400 middle school students and 800 high school students. In 2005, it became home to Frederick Douglass Academy II, grades six through 12. This meant that the school had to curtail enrollment. Students had to audition for a seat in the ninth grade, which drastically reduced the numbers. The school’s performing arts curriculum includes vocal, drama, dance, photography, culinary arts and visual arts.
Art work by Wadleigh students has been shown at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building for the past two years. The school has a partnership with the Apollo Theater, the Joyce Theater and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Additionally, once a month, the Colgate Palmolive Company invites Wadleigh students to its New York headquarters for mentoring, internships and hands-on learning about corporate life. Wadleigh also partners with Mentoring in Medicine (MIM), a program that helps guide students who aspire to enter into the medical profession. The late Dr. Muriel Petioni, a prominent Harlem physician and former Wadleigh student, served on the MIM board.
Presently, the co-location will bring even more students into a school already pressed for space. The proposed phasing out of the current middle school grades may be viewed as a way to accommodate the co-location.
While State Sen. Bill Perkins and Councilwoman Inez Dickens have been strong in the fight to keep Wadleigh intact, the school needs the support of everyone-parents, students and the community. A public hearing will be held at the school on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. to protest the truncation. Everyone is urged to come out in support. The Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts is located at 215 W. 114th St. in Harlem.