2003-02-22 / Columnists

From the

By Howard Schwach

The parents and the staff of PS 114 in Belle Harbor can breathe easier. They made the 208-schoool "A-List," the list of schools that are doing so well that they don’t have to use the same standardized curriculum as the rest of the city’s schools.

Not one other school in Rockaway made the list. Not one other 36 schools in School District 27 made the list. Not one!

A look at the list is instructive. Although the Mayor and the Chancellor promised that the list would not include only White, middle-class schools, there are 24 schools in the list from School District 2 in lower Manhattan Chinatown, Tribeca, Greenwich Village, the west side and the upper east side). There are 21 schools on the list from School District 26, which encompasses Flushing and Forest Hills. There is one school from District 27, one from District 29 (Rosesdale, Laurelton), one from District 6 (Upper Manhattan). There are two schools from District 8, one from District 9 and two from District 10 (all in the Bronx). There were a number of districts (Districts 5, 7, 11. 12, 13, 19 23 and 32) that had not one school on the list.

There are 20 schools from District 31 on Staten Island.

Neither of the local high schools, Far Rockaway High School or Beach Channel High School, made the list.

Get the picture? Despite the fact that the powers-that-be were willing to fudge the list to include some minority schools that were doing better than predicted, most of the schools in the list are from largely-White areas. In fact, sources at the Department of Education said that inclusion on the list was based on a number of factors that were given a point valne. Affluent schools made the list with a total of 140 points. Moderately poor schools needed 125 points to make the list and poor schools needed 110 points (sounds like Michigan University).

Despite that system, which some locals believe is affirmative action run amok, 85 percent of the schools on the list are from upper and middle-class neighborhoods, while 15 percent are from poor communities.

"The list is a form of affirmative action," Reagan administration undersecretary of education said. "Educators want diversity, so they won’t go with a strict meritocracy, because then you won’t end up with the mix you want."

A number of minority politicians, however, said that they were in favor of the point system and of the final list.

"It is a fair approach," said City Councilman Robert Jackson. "You can’t have one district for White, middle-class students and another for everybody else."

While parents at PS 114 were ecstatic that their school made the list and parents at PS 107 in Howard Beach, which has many of the same attributes as PS 114 were angry, many local parents said that they are not sure what it means.

Parents throughout the city, who spoke with the press, agree.

"Parents should not see this as an indictment against their child," parent leader Robin Brown in Fort Greene told reporters, noting that not one school in her district made the list.

Another parent, whose Manhattan school did not make the cut, asked, "Can parents in good conscience send their children to a school that was not chosen?"

A PS 107 parent who asked not to be identified called The Wave on Tuesday to complain that her school had far better scores and attendance than some of the schools that made the list.

"Why tell our kids that they are second best, not good enough to make the list, just so that some minority kids in a Brooklyn school can feel better about themselves," the parent asked. "The list should have contained the 200 best schools in the city, and we believe that 207 easily falls into that category."

"What becomes clear to me after reading the list," she adds, "is that the system is so complicated that there are different things wrong with the system in different parts of the city for different kids."

"The Klein 200," as the list is coming to be called, was put out purposefully late Friday afternoon just before the school’s winter holiday was to begin. With all of the city’s schools closed for a week, it is difficult to get a handle on how schools and parents feel about the list, both in schools that did not make the list and in PS 114 – the one district school that did.

"The chancellor put out his list and now he is laying low, letting the anger cool before he has to address it in a week," one local school staffer said.

At the same time that no Rockaway middle school made the list, several of the District 21 schools that attract Rockaway students away from local schools did make the list, including The Bay Academy and Mark Twain.

Their inclusion on the list simply reinforces the perception on the part of many Rockaway parents that those schools are "better" than Rockaway schools. That perception is not necessarily true, however.

Now, however, the perception is set in concrete by the fact that those schools "made the list," while the Rockaway schools did not.

Officialdom should not be providing ammunition for preconceived notions such as that one school is better than another.

They should, instead, be asking why 85 percent of the upper and middle-class schools do better than the others.

There is only one answer to that question and I have made that point on a number of occasions.

"It is the kids, stupid!"

It is not the principal, although the principal sets the tone of the school and can make a difference in terms of discipline and teacher morale.

It is not the assistant principals, who have become paperwork lackeys.

It is not the staff, although there are wonderful teachers and not so wonderful teachers in all of the city’s schools.

It is the kids, and by extension, their parents that make the difference.

On Thursday afternoon, there was a rumor circulating throughout the district that two Rockaway principals, Beth Longo (MS 198) and Juanita Bass (PS 42) were fired for the "persistent educational failure" on the part of their schools.

I do not know if that is true, and have no way of checking in the middle of a blizzard that comes on a week-long school vacation.

If it is true, however, I have a deal for Kathy Cashin, the new Division Five superintendent and for the chancellor.

The parents of PS 114 fervently want to get rid of their principal, despite the fact that they are on the list. They say that she does not accept either staff or parent input and that she has a great disdain for parents.

Get rid of her. Put Beth Longo in as principal. She is a good, solid administrator despite the fact that her school is failing. Her school is failing not because of her failure, but because there are six kids in the entire school who can read.

That is not her fault. They came to her school that way. It is the fault of the parents who do not care, kids who do not see education as important and a school zone that sends all of the students who can read to MS 180 rather than to MS 198.

Put the present PS 114 Principal, Lisa Vecchione in MS 198. After all, she is the principal of a school that made the list.

While you’re at it, take the best teachers from PS 114 and put them at MS 198 as well.

Will MS 198 then make the list of the best 200 schools next year? Of course not, and nobody in their right mind would expect that.

Perhaps that’s the problem. Those who are making educational decisions have lost their minds. Or, perhaps they just don’t get it. In any case, we are in for a long, hard ride.

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