Better Schools=Better Community
When elected officials, community activists and residents are asked about what Rockaway needs to do to come "back to life", the common answers (or buzzwords) are economic development and enhanced transportation services. Often missing from this answer is something so necessary to the "health" of any community – our schools.
The school year may be coming to a close, but the effort to improve our schools does not. Actually, if there is any time that is right for these efforts to come to fruition, it is now. With new leadership at the helm of District 27, Rockaway’s schools can move in a new direction – something so desperately needed.
Rockaway’s schools have been on a decline for more than a decade. Poor reading and math scores have plagued several schools, leading to a number of them being placed under review by the New York State Department of Education or named to the Chancellor’s District. After elementary school, many parents, especially on the west end of the peninsula, take their kids out of local schools. Citing lack of specialized programs and safety concerns, parents are sending their kids over the bridge to Brooklyn.
The recent round of testing has shown a slight improvement in our local schools. District 27 no longer holds the title for the lowest reading and math scores in the borough of Queens. We congratulate the students, parents, teachers and administrators for this accomplishment, but we have far to go.
District 27’s new leadership, under the direction of Superintendent Matthew Bromme, seems to be honestly concerned about Rockaway’s schools and our kids. Bromme and his two deputies, Martin Weinstein and Michele Lloyd-Bey, both Rockaway residents and former principals of Rockaway schools, have a task ahead of them. But, they deserve our full support at this time. We are not going to turn our schools around overnight. As it has been said, Rome was not built in a day. What we can do for our kids, though, is to give Bromme time to do what he has to do.
Bromme has already begun to change the leadership of some local schools. A new acting principal is at MS 53 and a new assistant principal will be joining the staff soon. P.S. 225, P.S. 105 and P.S. 114 are all interviewing for principals and changes are expected at MS 198.
Starting in September, each school will have a staff developer to work with teachers, especially those in the profession for the first year. This will hopefully create a needed support system within the individual schools.
We urge Bromme to follow through on his pledge to have state certified teachers in the lowest performing schools. Many of our schools with low reading and math scores also have the highest number of uncertified teachers. This should not be accepted.
Our schools must return to being neighborhood schools once again. Zoning issues must be addressed so that a child who lives across the street from a school doesn’t have to take a bus to another school that’s two or three miles away.
Teachers often complain about students who are repeat disciplinary problems and their inability to do anything about it. Students who are identified as disciplinary problems need to be addressed immediately. It is unfair that other students must suffer from a student who is continuously disruptive and/or causing fights in the classroom.
Allowing teachers to bring more of their personal creativity into the classroom is essential. Teachers can offer so much to the students, but are often stifled by regulations. Listen to the teachers -- they are in contact with the students each day and have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Bring the best grant writer to this district that we have ever (or never) seen. Even get teachers involved with grant writing as a way to get individual schools money for specialized programs. And when a program is created or offered, make sure it works in actuality and not just on paper.
Parents are an essential link to this effort. Involvement in Parent Associations, school leadership teams, school fundraisers, and other activities will benefit your kids. If you’re interested, your kids will be interested. If you’re concerned, the administration and district leadership will be concerned.
So, next time the question comes up about what to do to revive and revitalize Rockaway, the answer should be improving and strengthening our schools. Imagine a community surrounded by the beach and bay, with a small-town atmosphere, and the best schools around. Rockaway can be this place…the future of our community depends on it.