2002-07-27 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

There are always some stories kicking around in the file that need addressing but are not important enough to make an entire column. Those stories were once addressed in my "Short Takes" column. Since that column was spiked, however, I have been trying to do more of the long-form column, but occasionally I have to return to that short format to address those stories that might otherwise fall into the cracks. This is one of those columns.

Despite the fact that weekly community journalism is the backbone of the industry, those of us who work on weeklies traditionally get little respect from those who live to see their names in print.

A case in point.

Back in May, a former Rockaway resident who now lives in Florida sent me a copy of an article from the Palm Beach Post. The article told how residents of Boca Raton in Florida could track flights in and out of their local airport through a new computerized system that access flight control through the Internet.

It sounded interesting, and we were going through the time when Congressman Tony Weiner and the FAA were promising to keep planes from flying over the west end of Rockaway, so I called Weiner’s office. He didn’t know anything about it, but it sounded interesting to him as well. He told me to call the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), and I did. Arlene Salac, a spokesperson for the FAA in this area did some checking and called me back to tell me that she didn’t know anything about the plan, and neither did anybody in her office. She suggested that I call Greg Trevor, an aviation expert for the Port Authority. I called him, and he told me that he didn’t know anything about it, but that he would find out about it and get back to me.

Two weeks later, Trevor called me back to say that the Port Authority’s Aviation Department "was looking into it and would get back to me."

That was in June. I never heard from him again.

On Tuesday of this week, I pick up the daily papers, as I do every day, and see a story in Newsday entitled, "A New Eye In The Sky."

Seems that Queens and Long Island lawmakers gathered at LaGuardia Airport to announce that they are seeking funding for a great new program that would allow residents to access the Port Authority’s website and allow them to track aircraft arriving at and departing from our three local airports. The Port Authority hosted the meeting, and, although it was a media event all the way, guess which newspaper was not invited.

* * * * *

Reading scores are the means that parents and others track the success of our schools, even though those scores are not really a very good indicator unless they are used to measure a particular school against its past performance. When people start using them to match one school against another, however, the process breaks down. Buried in this year’s reading scores was a nugget that deserves to be noted. For years, PS 105 in Arverne was thought of as the "worst" school in Rockaway. It was taken away from the local school district a few years ago and placed in the Chancellor’s District. It was then named a School Under Register Review (SURR) and taken over by the state. As part of that plan, the fifth and sixth grade was moved to MS 198, to make for a smaller school organization. Actually, that was a good thing for the school. Laurie Shapiro, who was name principal of the school and her staff worked tirelessly to improve the scores. The school was put on an extended time schedule and class size was reduced to record lows. Scores began to rise and the school was turned back to the district, with the promise that the extra money needed to keep class size small would be continued. This year’s scores show what a success the program has become. The number of students at the school who met the standard in the Mathematics test rose from 23 percent to 41.7 percent. The number of students who met the reading standard rose from 28 percent to 30.6 percent. Those are huge gains at a school that the district at one time considered closing, reorganizing and reopening with an entirely new staff and administration. "That success certainly says a lot for smaller classes," school board president Steve Greenberg told me in a recent conversation. I have been writing for years that smaller classes are the key, particularly in the lower grades, but in middle school as well. Perhaps the success of schools such as PS 105 will touch off a movement that will lower class size in all schools.

* * * * *

In the most recent case of a young girl being killed by a sexual predator, it seems clear that everybody involved with the man who did the killing knew that if he were released, he would strike again. The cops knew it, the prison officials knew it, the board that heard his probation appeal knew it, and his psychologists knew it. Only the judge who heard his appeal believed that he should go free and he ordered his release. He did attack again, this time killing the young girl. Should not the judge be arrested for murder? I know that jurors are held harmless for decisions they make from the bench, but there has to be some sort of accountability involved when judges release dangerous felons to the community.

* * * * *

An ex-teacher sued the city, charging that he had been harassed by his students, who mocked his accent and threatened to beat him up. I laughed when I read about the suit, but I am not laughing anymore. The city has just agreed to pay him $50 thousand. Where do I get in line?

* * * * *

Rob Curran, who made a respectable run for city council as a newcomer, has a great idea. He wants Rockaway to get involved in the DOGNY project. It is similar to the Cow Parade, which was such as successfully project for many of the city’s communities a year or two ago. A community that sponsors a "dog" for $10 thousand, gets a German shepherd statue that it can decorate in any way it wishes. Local artists and kids get involved and their creation is then spotlighted in Manhattan before returning to its home community. Perhaps the RAA or the RMAC wants to get involved. It is a great art project that can bring the community together.

* * * * *

Neither the millionaire baseball players nor the billionaire owners care much of the fans. If they did, hot dogs would sell for less than the national debt of Zaire. Both groups fail to understand that the fans, in the wake of September 11, care little whether they play or not. I really believe that, if they strike, many baseball fans, as I am, will find somewhere else to take our entertainment dollars when they return to the playing field.

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