2002-02-16 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

From the Editor's Desk
By Howard Schwach

The Board of Education never fails to surprise me one last time. Just when I thought that the knuckleheads that run our education system had reached the limit of their stupidity, they take it one step further.

I understand that I am often in the minority and that many people see what they do as justified, even worthy.

When the rebirth of Townsend Harris High School was first proposed, I was the PA president at Far Rockaway High School. I fought against the concept of a school such as Townsend Harris in Queens (even though my daughter finally wound up graduating from the fine school).

Why was I opposed?

I wrote at the time that the new school would "take the ten best kids from every other high school in Queens – the class presidents, the newspaper editors, the top peer models for the other schools."

It turns out that I was right. Townsend Harris became one of the top schools in the nation and the other schools in Queens suffered mightily to do without those top academic students who would otherwise have attended their schools instead.

I was also opposed to a plan by a group of elitist west end parents who wanted to turn Junior High School 180 into another Mark Twain school. Those parents wanted JHS 180 to cater only to the top students in District 27, which would have been fine for 180 and for the west end parents, but would not have done much good for the other two middle schools on the peninsula. Of course, I had a vested interest in the plan's failure at the time because I was the Middle School Facilitator at IS 53 and was not sure that I wanted to lose all the kids in my Advanced Learning Institute (ALI) to another school just so that school could once again become the "School of Champions," while the other schools became the "Schools of Leftovers."

That is effectively what District 21 in Brooklyn did to attract students from Rockaway and other parts of the city. They made their middle schools into "magnet" programs and let their K-8 elementary schools die with all of the kids who could not earn a spot in the magnet schools. I would never want to see our district do anything such as that because it is educationally dishonest, although the parents of the kids who do make those schools seem to like it fine.

What happens when you take all of the academically oriented kids out of a school can be seen with MS 198. For the last 20 years, all of the top elementary students in the center of Rockaway went to the ASTRE Program at PS 183. Many of those students would have been zoned for MS 198, but their ASTRE placement allowed them to go to the SRI program at MS 180 instead. For years, MS 198 was drained of all of its academically oriented students and now it is a school that has only a handful of kids who can read and write.

What brought all of this up, was the most recent plan that that plan has nothing to do with academics.

The Board of Education is considering creating schools that would serve its "sports prodigies."

The first step towards those special "sports academies" will come shortly, when the rules committee of the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) will recommend a rules change that would abolish the one-year period of ineligibility for athletes who transfer between schools.

Many of the school officials who would speak on the record with reporters about the new plan are in favor.

"What's wrong with a kid going to a school because there is a great coach there," one PSAL official asks. "Why shouldn't they get a chance to play for a great coach who is out there teaching and doing a good job of getting kids into college?"

"I don't think that there is anything wrong with a parent who wants their child to play for a certain coach determining what school their child goes to," says another. "I think that the parent should have an option. If the coach at their zoned school is not a good coach and the coach at another school it, the parent should have the option of sending the child to the school with the good coach."

Those officials point to schools such as LaGuardia High School, where young actors, dancers and musicians apply for the prestigious performing arts program.

"Kids go to that school without ever knowing that they will ever be on television or on Broadway," an official says. "We use the talent as a hook to provide the academics and there is no reason we can't do the same with athletes."

Think about the recruiting problems such academies would create. I could see schools making payments under the table, perks, cheerleaders, to the top athletes. I could see the same problems that have been created by college recruiting. That is not a pretty picture.

I also see, however, the same sort of situation created in athletics that is created by putting all of the academic stars in one basket.

You are going to get some UCONN's, some Miami's and the rest will be C.W. Post's. Why would a kid want to play for a basketball program at a school such as Far Rockaway or Beach Channel when it was a given that one of the sport's academies would win the city championship each year. Will those academies play only among themselves? Will there be a separate championship bracket for those schools? Will the "leftover" teams have to play them on a regular basis? There are lots of questions that have to be answered and most of those answers will be bad for local schools that will no longer have any top players.

There are already problems enough. District 21 recruits District 27 academic students and reading scores fall in District 27.

The principal of the Frederick Douglas Academy in Manhattan is reportedly under investigation for ordering grades changed to keep athletes eligible.

Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, where the school is under investigation for using phony safety transfers and addresses to recruit top football players from other schools.

A. Phillip Randolph High School, where a top female track team has been assembled, allegedly by using phony transfers and addresses.

I believe in neighborhood schools. All of the kids in a given neighborhood should attend the school zoned for them, unless there are genuine safety concerns or other valid considerations.

That is the key to education and recruiting kids for any specialty begins to denigrate the system.

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