2001-04-21 / Columnists

School Scope 0421

School Scope 0421

You have the perfect opportunity to ask our "educational leaders" about District 27 schools and school problems on April 30 at 7:30. All you have to do is show up at Beach Channel High School on that evening for the education forum sponsored by both The Wave and the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce.

The two speakers who have been invited to take part in the forum are in a unique position to fill you in on what is going on in Queens as well as in District 27, to answer your questions and perhaps to take action on some of the things that bother you about the system.

The featured speakers for the evening are Terry Thomson, who is the Queens representative to the Board of Education and Matt Bromme, the superintendent of District 27. It probably would have been better had some of the principals of peninsula schools joined the duo, but that is not to be.

I will be one of the moderators as will John Lapore, the vice president of the Chamber of Commerce. John is also a parent of a student at PS 114 and a keen observer of the schools and of the parent’s rights and obligations to their children’s education.

I am sure that there will be a number of "hot button" issues that will form the focus of the evening.

Given the location of the forum and the makeup of the expected audience, the major issue that will be addressed that night will be the Pre-K program at PS 114. There are a number of parents who are rightfully up in arms about a situation where their young children will be forced to attend other schools in Rockaway for the Pre-K program because the district has set up approximately 25 seats at the West End school for that program. These parents are vocal and politically-hip and I would expect that they will let both Bromme and Thomson know their feelings on the subject.

The elitist segment of the West End community who will never again send their children to MS 180 because there are "too many of them" attending the school will address the magnet program in the hope that snagging the grant will make the school viable again because it would fill the seats with "kids who want to learn," which has become a kind of euphemism for middle-class White kids.

I do not believe that the district will ever get a Federal magnet grant. I could be wrong. If Weiner and Schumer get involved and express their strong interest to the Secretary of Education, it could happen. Politics are not supposed to play a part in grant decisions, but you know as well as I do that it is who you know that counts in the Federal bureaucracy.

Those grants, you see, are for one purpose and one purpose only – to decrease minority isolation. The grant is given to systems that have some all-White Schools and some all-Black schools in the hope that the new programs will help to mix the schools and make them less racially isolated. There are so few White students left in the district that there is no way to achieve that kind of balance in our schools. The argument that the grant will bring White students who left the district to go elsewhere back to schools such as MS 180 was rejected last time around. This comes under the category of I do not think so, but stranger things have happened.

My major questions will be about discipline. I will ask Terry Thomson why Queens does not yet have a Second Opportunity School (SOS) even though the program was funded for a school in each borough about three years ago. The SOS schools are designed to take the most disruptive kids from each school and work with them in small classes and with extra services until they are ready to go back to the traditional classroom. If that sounds like the old 600 school plan, it is, and we need it badly. I still think that this district should close down MS 198, a failing school that has just become a School Under Register Review (SURR) school and designate it as the SOS school for Queens. The original plan was to put it in Long Island City. That is as isolated to Southern Queens students as Arverne would be to Northern Queens students. The fact is, the subway runs right behind the school and it would be reasonably simple to get to from any part of the borough by bus and subway.

I would also ask Thomson about the new law that allows teachers to move students from their classrooms and about the new suspense rule. Be prepared to laugh, because her answers will be a far from reality as Rockaway is from Long Island City.

I would ask Matt Bromme why the district schools have effectively stopped suspending disruptive and dangerous students. I would ask him if, in his opinion, he believes that the new in-house programs that are already in place (and are mandated by the new law) really work.

I would ask him what should be done with truly dangerous students – those who attack teachers and other students. I would ask him what should be done with students who continually curse at teachers and staff and who refuse to follow school discipline rules.

I would ask both Bromme and Thomson how they are going to staff the schools next year, when more than a hundred of the most experienced teachers, a dozen of the most experienced principals and who-knows how many assistant principals leave district schools for retirement or for greener pastures in Nassau County or upstate.

I would ask both how they stand on doing away with the local schools boards and turning over all of whatever power there is to the Mayor.

I would ask Bromme about his plan to rezone Rockaway schools when the new school in Far Rockaway opens in two years or so and when the new school for Arverne comes on line.

I would ask Bromme why he continues to buy expensive Apple computers for district schools, when he could get much better value buying PC’s and he would be getting machines that most of the kids use at home and that most of them will use when they go out into the real world.

I would ask Thomson whey the central school board sold out its ideals to chose a clone of the Mayor, one who is interested only in vouchers and charter schools, for president. I would ask her is Irving Hammer really sold his vote for the equivalent of several pieces of silver.

I would ask Bromme about his policy of demanding that teachers who take legitimate religious observation days must bring a note from their religious leader to use the day. I would ask him why he does not demand the same thing of Jewish teachers who take Purim and other holidays that he does of Catholic teachers who take Easter Monday.

I would ask Thomson why there is accountability for principals, accountability for teachers, accountability for superintendents but no accountability for students or their parents.

There are lots of questions to ask. I hope that there are plenty of people in the audience to ask them. There has been lots of conjecture that parents really do not care about their children’s education. This is a chance to prove that belief wrong, at least as far as Rockaway is concerned.

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