2003-02-15 / Community

Ed Board Members Look To Alliance

By Miriam Rosenberg

By Miriam Rosenberg

Parents, grandparents and community members concerned about education for Rockaway’s children met February 5 to discuss ways to insure their voices will continue to be heard after the city’s local school boards are disbanded in June. Current School Board 27 members Steve Greenberg, Ernest Brown and David Hooks called the meeting, independent of the local school board.

"What we want to do is get together a group of parents and community people in Rockaway to form a committee, an alliance – whatever you want to call it, representing the schools of Rockaway," said a concerned Steve Greenberg, the current president of a School Board 27 before the meeting started. "The biggest fear we have is we’re going to be left out here in Rockaway without our problems being looked at. This is our attempt to stay in the loop, so to speak."

The almost hour-long meeting touched on issues that have come up since the new school system was announced.

Sonya Webber-Bey, a parent, teacher and businesswoman in Rockaway, asked whose responsibility it will be to deal with problems that come up in the schools.

"I want to know as a parent, when my son goes to school, if there is an issue at his school that I can’t solve right there in the school building where will I go? What is the system going to look like?" said Webber-Bey, who agreed it was important to form an advocacy group now instead of waiting for a crisis to happen.

Becky Bonilla, who has two children in the city school system, believes that a standard curriculum for all schools will not work.

"[The mayor and the chancellor] are not assessing the schools properly," said Bonilla, who is the president of the Parents Association at PS 105. "I feel that they should come individually and check every school, because every school has different needs. What might work for PS 105, might not work for 104. Schools need to be evaluated differently.

"I think parents have to be involved," continued Bonilla. "We have to stick together and fight this, because without parent involvement we’re not going to get anything solved."

Ernestine Majett is a grandmother who is afraid that she will lose input concerning her grandchildren’s education since the new law requires that community members who sit on any new school boards must be a parent with a child in the system.

"I have three grandchildren – one in pre-K and two in fifth grade at 198," said Majett, the financial secretary for PS 105. "I’m going to try to fight [the new law] if possible."

Greenberg conceded that, for now, the answers to the issues brought up at the meeting are unclear even to current school board members. He hopes that Dr. Kathleen Cashin, the new regional superintendent of School Division Five (which includes the Rockaways), will soon speak with the new group and the current members of School Board 27.

School board member Ernest Brown believes a complete community effort must be put forth to fight for the children and schools of the Rockaways.

"What I hope will start with this small group sitting here, is you’ll reach out to those who are presidents of the PA’s (Parents Association), the church groups and yes, even the politicians who put us in this situation," said Brown, who said that even those without children should be involved.

Greenberg agreed that those who attended the meeting should spread the word about the new group to the people and organizations in Rockaway’s communities.

"If we have a powerful group, that’s something that’s helpful going forward," said Greenberg. "It can keep us on the map and keep us in front of the powers that be. That’s why we’re here."

Board member David Hooks said simply that "now is the time to show how much love we have [for the children]" by getting involved.

City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., of the 31st District, sent a representative to the meeting. Josette Lowenhaupt, took notes for a report to be submitted to the councilman.

"I think he wants to be a participant with whatever groups are formed out of the schools and work with the people of Rockaway with the new governance structure and whatever group is formed to work with them," said Lowenhaupt.

The group’s next meeting will be on February 24 at 7pm at 1603 Central Avenue in Far Rockaway. At that time, an agenda is expected to be laid out.

Community School Board President Steve Greenberg speaks to the audience at the meeting about forming an alliance once the school board is disbanded in June.

Sister Sonia Webber-Bey, a long-time school activist, speaks with the audience.

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