2003-12-26 / Front Page

Everybody Agrees: Changes Necessary For MS 180

Gifted Program Changes, Grades 5-8 May Remain at PS 114
By Howard Schwach

If you don’t like the plan for reorganizing Middle School 180 in Rockaway Beach, just wait a couple of minutes. The plan has become a work in progress that is apparently being negotiated by Region Five Supervising Administrator Dr. Kathleen Cashin, the parents association at PS 114 in Belle Harbor and an ad-hoc group of minority parents who call themselves The Rockaway Organized Coalition for Forward Movement (ROCFM).

Cashin’s original plan called for a Scholar’s Academy, a district-wide gifted program that would require a test and an interview for admission as well as top scores.

It also called for grade 5-8 students from PS 114 to attend MS 180 because the Belle Harbor elementary school is so overutilized.

At a Community School Board 27 meeting held at the school last week, however, things seemed to have changed.

The Scholar’s Academy is still planned for the school, but the focus will no longer be entirely on academics as a definer of who is "gifted."

"There will not be an admission’s test for the Scholar’s Academy," Cashin told the 250 parents and community activists who attended the Thursday night meeting. "We are going to identify the high 3’s and the low 4’s (referring to scores on standardized tests in Language Arts and Mathematics). We are looking for those students with good attendance, with parental involvement. We are looking for those who can play an instrument, for those who are good in sports."

Cashin added that the region is in line for a Hayden Foundation grant that would allow region schools to pursue such "non-traditional sports" as gymnastics, soccer and lacrosse. She intimated that the grant would be used, at least in part, for the Scholar’s Academy.

Cashin, however did not mention the PS 114 grade 5-8 component at MS 180.

When asked after the meeting if that was still on the table, Cashin told a Wave editor that she "could not talk about that."

"Don’t be angry at me because I can’t talk about those things," she added. "Those are my orders from the Department of Education."

She apparently angered some of the parents who are involved with ROCFM by telling the audience that she had presented her plan that day to the Department of Education.

"How could you tell us that you had an open mind about this when you now say that you made your presentation to the DOE," asked Angelique Reid, one of the organization’s founders.

"What I gave them was a broad outline of the program," Cashin responded. "Nothing is yet written in stone."

NAACP President Ed Williams, who blasted the plan only two weeks ago said at the meeting, "I want to salute Dr. Cashin for modifying the plan to provide equity for all of the students in the Rockaways."

He refused to say, however, in what ways the plan was modified.

On Monday, Reid would only say, "We are working with Congressman (Gregory) Meeks in discussions with Dr. Cashin and we can’t say any more right now."

Community School Board 27 President Steve Greenberg praised the plan.

"I have a sign over my desk at work," Greenberg said. It says, "Insanity is continuing the same process when it doesn’t work."

Cashin said that "elementary schools are much more nurturing than middle schools," and that she would work to make several local schools into K-8 schools. Those include PS 43, PS 105, PS 183, PS 225, PS 114 and MS 198.

"It is what private and parochial schools do," she said. "How can we go wrong?"

A number of people rose during the question and answer session, however, to question both K-8 and the placement of sixth graders in both Beach Channel and Far Rockaway High Schools.

Cashin’s plan includes a Channel View Academy (a rework of the ALPS Program) at BCHS as well as a Frederick Douglas Academy as FRHS. Both of those programs would be for students in grades 6-12.

Ex-school board member Ronni Schwab argued that sixth graders do not belong in the same building with high school seniors.

"A word we haven’t heard tonight is ‘security,’ whether or not our young kids will be safe," Schwab said.

Cashin said that the sixth grade program would be "parent’s choice." She added that BCHS has become much safer since a new principal was installed.

Statistics show, however, at least fourteen serious incidents in the building since the administrative changes.

Cashin, meanwhile says that she is listening to everybody prior to a final decision on any plan for MS 180.

"I have heard the MS 180 parents and I say to them that I won’t disappoint them," she said at the meeting. "I have also heard the PS 114 parents and I won’t disappoint them either."

"There are no two sides to this question, there is only the children’s side," she added.

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