“They are trying to take the castle. Boys and Girls High School is a historical icon of a historical community,” activist Jelani Mashariki told the Amsterdam News at a public meeting on Tuesday night to halt the closure of one of the jewels in the crown of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The auditorium was packed with students, teachers, alumni, activists, reporters and concerned supporters and residents. They all had something to say, from Councilman Al Vann and Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, to Board of Regents Member Lester Young to Vaughn Harper, host of “The Quiet Storm” on WBLS.

A common theme reverberating throughout the night was that real estate and not test scores was a big part of the city’s machinations to take the school.

“This is about real estate and the politics of City Hall, and the DOE right now and the ideology that small schools are the way to go,” Young told the AmNews. “I think what is so important, what has been said and demonstrated tonight, is that there has been so much vibrancy in the school, and there are so many young people who are full of the thirst for learning. I’m on the board here. I am in the school two or three times a week, and I have been to some of the best schools in the country, but I see the level of commitment and excitement about learning. I stand 100 percent behind Principal [Bernard] Gassaway and his administration. They are doing an excellent job.”

Attendees spoke on how regentrification has taken a toll on the Brooklyn neighborhood. “Rents and house prices have soared as a growing number of whites have come over the bridge from Manhattan post 9/11 for a variety of reasons and chosen to settle in what had become traditionally Black and Latino neighborhoods,” observed educator Wilmon Cousar, a Boys and Girls alumni. “We can’t let the city just roll up in here and try to take our iconic school. This is about the children for real. This is about late, great principal Frank Mickens. This is about the work and legacy of Sonny Abubadika Carson. We are going to fight for our school and for our students.”

Howard Pressley, a 10th-grader on the school’s football and basketball teams, couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about Boys and Girls. “I love this school. I want other upcoming students to experience what I experienced, from first grade to fifth grade … they should all be able to experience this school. We are outstanding student-athletes. We have to maintain a certain average to play on Mr. Gassaway’s teams. Academics is very, very important here.”

In response to an AmNews request for comment regarding Boys and Girls High School’s performance and why it was chosen as an early engagement school, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said, “We have begun conversations with 24 secondary [grades 6-12] schools, high schools and transfer schools that we have identified as struggling. These are difficult but important conversations to have to ensure that we are holding our schools to the highest of standards.

“The goal of these discussions is to gain a better understanding of what’s happening at these schools and give them the opportunity to talk about the challenges they face; the strategies and interventions already under way; and what strategies or interventions will be most meaningful to the school as they move forward. We’ll take the feedback that we receive from the school and community into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success, and we will continue to work with all of our schools to ensure that students have access to high quality options.”

The DOE statement added that each of the two dozen schools “has been looked at closely for their past performance and demand trends, any plans they already have under way to reform the school, leadership performance and district and community needs. This is in addition to looking at past progress reports, quality reviews, placement on the state’s priority/focus list and Joint Intervention Team reviews.”

The statement continued, “Over the past several years, despite the best efforts of the community and the DOE to support Boys and Girls High School, the school has struggled to demonstrate the capacity to meet basic requirements for student success and to support the student achievement your school community deserves. Unfortunately, our best efforts have not turned around the school.”

According to the DOE, summary graduation rates have remained between 39 percent and 46 percent for the last five years. Boys and Girls earned an F grade on its 2011-2012 annual progress report, including F grades for student progress, student performance, and college and career readiness, and a D grade for school environment. Boys and Girls has a history of low performance, including an overall C grade on the 2009-2010 progress report and an overall F grade on the 2010-2011 progress report.

Supporters reject the yardstick used to gather these stats without consideration of extreme extenuating circumstances, like the addition of 1,800 students who were rejected from every other school and without additional resources.

Young told the AmNews, “You can’t use the same yardstick to evaluate Boys and Girls as other schools without looking at all the issues involved. Principal Gassaway will take anybody, but if he is taking all the other students that the other schools won’t take to protect their numbers, then he is actually involved in and committed to educating the least [served] in our community … the DOE has to come up with a different yardstick of evaluating schools like this.

“Otherwise, educators like him will always be on the defense. So long as you use the same yardstick for schools that aren’t at risk for schools where students come from two-parent families, higher social-economic status–how can you use the same yardstick?”

The DOE added that all schools identified by the DOE as “struggling” will receive an action plan.

Gassaway declared that not only do they have an action plan (published in the AmNews on Nov. 29), but “Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed off on it and agreed to give us the time to put everything in place, and now they are saying something different.”

DOE has proposed an action plan for the school that will focus support in areas where intensive assistance is required to improve student performance through the 2012-2013 school year. The plan may include ideas such as “providing leadership coaching; providing professional development on instructional strategies for struggling students; changing leadership … providing new school options for students and parents that can better support student success by phasing out the school over time by not accepting new students or reducing enrollment over time by accepting fewer students; and placing new district or charter schools in the building that will support student achievement and provide additional school choices for families.”

Cousar evaluated, “All that means is that they will eventually fail any school put in that building too and take the building. They are long-term planners. We have to be as organized and resilient in our opposition. No, they are not going to take our school just because it is sitting on prime real estate and the new community brought in here has its eyes on it. They can forget that.”

Young concluded that the school administration and community must tell the DOE to “stop judging us by a conventional standard without looking at all the extenuating circumstances.

“By you sending him all the students that nobody else wants, and his taking them, saying, ‘Where else are they supposed to go?’ By him doing what he is supposed to do, by leaving no child left behind, he is being penalized.”

Gassaway said, “There is no need to consider a plan for Boys and Girls High School. We have a plan, and they have had the plan in their hand for a year. It is a plan that has been endorsed by the chancellor, so let’s stick with the plan. He came to the school and we sat and talked about the plan. He said he would support it and he has up until now.

“But the plan has not been fully implemented–you can’t stop midway. It takes time. We have designed a new school that we created with them and will open in September 2013. We want technical career options, but we haven’t got the money for that yet, and we have the YABC [Young Adult Borough Center] program for older students that just opened this September, so it takes time for things to manifest.”

As for the prime real estate accusation, Gassaway concluded, “I think it is a very important consideration. We are centrally located; we are right above a train station [A and C], and the Long Island Railroad is in our backyard–that is obviously a factor. But Boys and Girls will not be a part of that. We are going to remain a school. I am optimistic.”

“I come here even before school starts and I stay to the end of the day,” 12th-grader Tatiana Davis Headley told the AmNews. “I try and participate in as many activities as I can. I am in so many programs that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity [to take part in] anywhere else. Since I first came here, I tried to begin a newsletter, which we have now so we can have updates for people in the school and outside the school, to tell people what is going on in the school and how great it is here.

“This school is home and I am always here, 24/7, really Saturdays and Sundays. I am in the drama club, I am going to meetings with the principal. I’m also trying to create this organization to help the community by going green. Academically, the school is so good. I have got to make great connections, to see plays, even have my own radio show, I have got to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I have done so much, I want other students to be able to come here. I love this school.”

Folks can contact the high school’s superintendent, Karen Watts, by emailing D16proposals@schools.nyc.gov or calling 212-374-0208.