2003-11-21 / Front Page

Big Changes Coming For Middle Schools

MS 180 To House Gifted Program, Grades 6-8 From PS 114 Parents Angrily Challenge Cashin at Raucous Meeting
By Howard Schwach
Big Changes Coming For Middle Schools

MS 180 To House Gifted Program, Grades 6-8 From PS 114
Parents Angrily Challenge Cashin at Raucous Meeting

Dr. Kathleen CashinDr. Kathleen Cashin

Kathleen Cashin, the Region Five Regional Superintendent has a plan that would change the face of education in Rockaway. Whether or not that radical plan will ever be implemented, however, remains in question.

The plan calls for closing both MS 198 and MS 180 and reopening them as schools that would encompass kindergarten to the eighth grade.

It calls as well for major changes at MS 180, changes reportedly put in place to stem the "white flight" on the part of west end parents who have been sending their children to Brooklyn magnet middle schools rather than to the Rockaway school.

To stem that tide, MS 180 would be broken into three distinct units:

Marion Allen-Hampton, the parent association president at Middle School 180, speaks to the large audience about the problems she sees with the proposed school changes.Marion Allen-Hampton, the parent association president at Middle School 180, speaks to the large audience about the problems she sees with the proposed school changes.

+A "Scholar's Academy," which would take only those sixth, seventh and eighth grade students who score high on standardized math and reading tests, who have good attendance and who do well on interviews and in writing an application letter. This program would mimic the highly-successful Mark Twain Academy in Brooklyn, which now draws many west end students

+A middle school unit for those grades 5-8 students from PS 114 who do not gain entrance to the Scholar's Academy. This is being done, according to region sources, because PS 114 does not have the room to become a K-8 school. PS 114 would then become a pre-k to grade four school.

+A new "Gifted High School" for Rockaway, similar to Townsend Harris and Bronx Science. This unit would probably be a grade 6 to 12 unit.

+In addition, there would be, for a short time, a school for those students who now attend MS 180 and do not fit into either of the other programs. This unit would be phased out as students graduate.

Community School Board members Ernest Brown (left) and David Hooks, at the meeting. Hooks asked if the local board would get a chance to vote on the plan, but got no answer from Dr. Kathleen Cashin.Community School Board members Ernest Brown (left) and David Hooks, at the meeting. Hooks asked if the local board would get a chance to vote on the plan, but got no answer from Dr. Kathleen Cashin.

A new "Channel View Academy," which would reportedly replace the present ALPS Program, would cover grades 6 to 12 and would move to Beach Channel High School under the direction of Patricia Tubridy, who is now an assistant principal at MS 180.

A new high school academy, the Frederick Douglass Academy, will reportedly be opened at Far Rockaway High School as a grade 6 to 12 school.

PS 183 in Hammels and PS 225 in Rockaway Beach would become K-8 schools as well.

"My goal is to have a rebirth of education in the Rockaways by serving everyone's child," Cashin told a New York Post reporter on Saturday.

She insisted that each of the select and specialty schools would have a "diverse group of students."

Parents, however, are not sure. The parents association of MS 180 called an emergency meeting for Monday night at St. John's Baptist Church on Beach 74 Street.

At that meeting, upwards of 300 parents angrily chanted, "Leave our school alone, leave our principal alone," and challenged Cashin over and over again to tell them why she chose MS 180 for reorganization rather than one of the two other under-performing Rockaway middle schools.

Wearing a T-shirt that loudly proclaimed, "Not my principal, not my school, hands off 180," Shanell Harper, a parent association officer at MS 180, told The Wave, "MS 180 is a much better school now than it was when George Giberti took over as principal. This is all about getting rid of Giberti and we will not allow that to happen to him or to our children."

"We don't want them to make our school a special application school because they are doing it simply to get rid of our kids to make room for the PS 114 kids who are coming back from Brooklyn schools."

"They want to ship our kids to MS 53, a school that is worse than 180," she added. "We will not stand for it."

"We're the best middle school on the peninsula," said Marion Allen- Hampton, the PA President. "Leave our school alone, leave our principal alone, leave our kids alone."

"Giberti is in the school early in the morning. He's on the street, in people's homes, making sure that kids go to school. He's at the bus stop late in the afternoon making sure the kids get home safely. They are not going to take him from us," she promised.

"We have grave concerns about Cashin's plan to make MS 180 into a gifted school," Ed Williams, the President of the local chapter of the NAACP told the meeting. "Why have you targeted MS 180 when it is the best middle school on the peninsula," he asked Cashin, who was sitting in the audience, surrounded by region officials and security personnel.

"The PA officials told me that she has not met with them," Williams added. "Why did the parents have to learn about the plan in the New York Post?"

Williams focused on the theme that Cashin wanted to remove mostly-minority children from the school to make room for mostly-white PS 114 students who previously went to schools in Brooklyn rather than to MS 180, their zoned school.

Wajeedah Anderson-Beyah, a member of the school's leadership team, told the meeting that "they want the color line back to what it used to be, and 114 is tired of putting their babies on buses to Brooklyn."

"Why are our children told that they must remain in dangerous school unless they have a safety variance when the students from 114 in Belle Harbor were allowed to go to Brooklyn," Williams asked Cashin. "Explain how an entire grade of children were allowed to skip their zoned school and go to Brooklyn."

Cashin had no answer to that question, or to many of the others that were asked.

"Why are you trying to get rid of a principal who has made the school much better," a parent asked.

"That is a personnel question and I cannot answer personnel questions," Cashin told the parent. There were loud boos from the audience.

"I'm not allowed to answer that by law," Cashin retorted, to even louder boos.

School board member David Hooks said that he was angry that the board had not been shown the plan, that he had to pick up a daily paper to find out about it.

"This is a zoning change that requires the board to vote on it," Hooks said. "Will the board have a say in the plan?"

Cashin apologized to Hooks for not coming to the board with the plan, but turned her back to him without answering his question about the board vetting her plan.

"This plan comes from my heart," she told the parents. "If you don't listen to that, then you are not going to hear anything."

"As the superintendent of District 23, we steadily improved because I would not accept 22 percent as good enough," Cashin added. "We have kids who would benefit from this program. Why not let them?"

When one of Cashin's lieutenants came to her defense, Williams angrily told her, "She pays your salary. None of you has a child in Middle School 180."

Another parent, who works in the school, told Cashin that, on a school visit, she "embarrassed the principal and harassed the teachers."

"I am sorry if I embarrassed the principal, but I am going to continue to go to the school and continue to do my job," Cashin retorted angrily.

Cashin told the audience that she was not planning to close 180, simply to restructure it.

The parents claim that Dr. Cashin has not met with them about the proposed changes and that they have many questions. Cashin agreed to come to a regular parent association meeting to answer questions.

At the meeting, Cashin said that she had met with small groups of parents at MS 180, but a number of parents challenged her, saying that they had never seen her at meetings with parents in the building. She did not answer their challenges, except to say that perhaps she was wrong to meet with small groups rather than with the entire parent association body.

Steve Greenberg, the president of Community School Board 27, which is still functioning despite the plan to do away with the boards by September, says that the plan can't be implemented without a vote by the school board.

"Officially, we haven't had a presentation yet on the plan," Greenberg said, although he expected that that presentation might be given before The Wave comes out on Friday. "This is definitely a zoning issue and the board has to vote on all zoning issues."

Greenberg pointed out that the last rezoning of Rockaway was completed just last year to accommodate a new Far Rockaway school, and that it took months to hold meetings with the parents as required by education law.

"I guess that, even if we don't pass it, they can wait until the boards are gone and then do anything they want," he added.

Greenberg says that the rules require that a school be closed for a year before it can be reorganized. He says, however, that he does not expect that to happen in this case.

"Officially, they have to close the school to get rid of the principal and 50 percent of the staff," he said. "Unofficially, they are not planning to do that."

There are some in the MS 180 community who see the reorganization plan simply as a ploy to get rid of George Giberti, the school's principal.

One such person, who asked not to be identified, told The Wave, "Cashin has been trying to get rid of Giberti for political reasons, even though he has the support of the parents. Closing and reorganizing the school is the only way she can do that."

"This entire plan is politically motivated, not educationally-motivated," the informant concluded.

Cashin met with parents at PS 114 in Belle Harbor on Tuesday night. At that meeting, Cashin told the parents that this year's grade four and grade five students at the school would have the option of applying to the Scholar's Academy at MS 180, the Channel View Academy at BCHS, the Frederick Douglass Academy at FRHS or remain in the PS 114 program at MS 180. She added that students may still apply to the middle school programs in Brooklyn, as many have been doing for the past several years.

She also said that MS 180 students would have several options as well: Apply for the Scholar's Program; the Channel View Academy; Frederick Douglass Academy; remain in MS 180 through grade 8; go back to their elementary schools to complete grade 8.

In any case, Cashin said, MS 180 would cease to exist after the 2005-2006 school year.

"Myself and many others were excited by what we heard," said one parent of a PS 114 student who asked to remain anonymous. "I understand that there is opposition to the plan in other communities, but nobody is being thrown out of anywhere. Current students will be able to finish at MS 180 and new students would get more choices in the future."

When Cashin was contacted more than a week ago to comment on her plan, she told The Wave editor that she would like to hold the story "in order to touch base with some people involved in the plan."

She added that she "would have some time for The Wave on Monday and would answer any questions at that time."

The Wave acquiesced to her plea and did not run the story in last week's paper. On Saturday, however, The New York Post broke the story, including quotes from Cashin. She has since not returned a number of calls for comment from The Wave.

On Wednesday afternoon, after meeting with parents at PS 114 on Tuesday night, Cashin issued a prepared statement through the Department of Education's press office.

"All the options under consideration are designed to offer more high quality academic opportunities for students in the Rockaways," the statement said. "In addition to any potential gifted programs, we are exploring options for sixth graders to remain in their elementary schools, apply for one of the new 6-12 schools, or attend other new programs within schools. Our goal is to offer high quality educational options for everyone's child."

Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said that the plan is just a proposal and is not yet in written form for review by parents or the media, but a number of Department of Education employees at the Monday night meeting, including Claude Monereau, a former assistant principal at Beach Channel High School, told a Wave editor that they had seen the plan and approved of it.

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