2004-02-27 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

There are those who argue that I write too often about education in this space.

They are probably right when the total readership of The Wave is taken into account, but it is tough for a retired educator to look at everything that is going on in New York City now and not comment on those changes.

Some of what is going on, especially in our little part of Region Five, just strikes me as plain foolishness.

Perhaps I was a teacher for too long and I can’t see the forest for the trees, but the regional superintendent keeps setting the trees on fire and it is hard not to see the smoke.

I wrote a front page story two weeks ago about a new suspension program that would take 15 disruptive students from each of our two local high schools and place them in an alternative setting for up to a semester.

I have been asking for a program such as that for years.

The Rockaway program, like all the New Beginnings programs, was to be run by a local community based organization called "The Action Center for Education and Community Develop ment" under the auspices of the After-School Corporation.

The program was set, the contracts were reportedly signed and the local CBO had a prime storefront space on Beach 115 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

Two weeks ago, however, one of the women who runs the Action Center, Aria Doe, a parent at both PS 106 and MS 180, stood up at a school board meeting to complain that Kathleen Cashin’s plan for a gifted program at MS 180 and to make a number of schools into K-8 programs left out many kids, mostly minority kids.

Two days later, Doe was notified by Cashin that the Action Center was no longer running the Rockaway New Beginning program, putting the program in doubt and at least postponing it until a new CBO can be identified and brought up to speed.

Doe claims that her program was pulled because of her stated opposition to Cahsin’s plan. We have no reason to doubt her statement because Cashin was not available for comment.

At the same time, Cashin and the other regional superintendents were given a new power, one that previously belonged to the elected school boards.

Cashin can now rezone any school in the region without any input whatsoever by the communities that are served by those schools.

That is a dangerous power in the hands of any one person because not only educational values are involved, but home values as well.

Homes in the PS 114 zone sell in excess of $20 thousand more than houses across the street that are in the PS 225 zone.

Cashin could set the west end on its head simply by rezoning a wider area for PS 114 or by rezoning Breezy Point students for PS 225 rather than PS 114.

There were once rules for rezoning schools, procedures to follow, a public hearing in each of the affected schools. Now, all bets are off, all rules are gone.

What havoc we could see from this new chancellor’s regulation, a regulation change that shows a profound misunderstanding and disdain of the city’s residents.

The elected school board, which still has a few months of legal existence, is set to vote for the new gifted program and for several K-8 programs on March 1 at PS 225. Their vote will probably be meaningless because they no longer have the power to vote on those issues. It is now for Cashin and Cashin alone to decide. I have no doubts that Cashin is well-meaning and that she really wants to address the needs of the community, although at times she tends to be mean-spirited. To take some power from the community and give it to one person from outside the community, however, is a dangerous thing, no matter who the person or how much that person is well-meaning.

There are just so many horror stories eminating from the schools.

There is the published report that Local Instructional Superin tendents (who have responsibility for 10 schools or so) have to find three principals who will be rated unsatisfactory at the end of the year and principals have to find three of their schools staff to rate unsatisfactory.

I have been hearing stories such s that for years, but this time, in the light of everything else that is going on in the schools, I believe the reports.

If quotas are not proper for school admission and they are not good for police parking tickets, then they are certainly not good for throwing people out of their jobs.

The Department of Education says there are no quotas.

"The Chancellor’s said many times that we are looking to create more
of a performance-based culture," a spokes person for the Chancellor said, which is like a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department saying, "there are no quotas for our police officers, there are only productivity goals."

Add this new stuff to everything that has gone before: the appointment of a female principal at BCHS that had been run out of her last school for "creating a hostile sexual environment" for a male teacher at the school; the appointment of Joan Gordon as a Local Instructional Super visor (LIS), a woman who fiddled with bulletin boards while entire schools burned; removing a top principal from MS 198 due to persistent educational failure even though the school board 20 years ago zoned that school for failure and replacing her with a woman who, if you listen to the experienced school staff, has no leadership skills whatsoever and who has been using school funds to buy what they consider frivolous equipment while denying teachers the material they need to do their job; proposing a school reorganization plan that brought her approbation from the mostly-white west end community and enmity from the mostly-minority community in the rest of the peninsula and, although she had gone to many meetings in many schools, she is charged by many parents with a failure to listen to what they have to say.

Where will this all lead?

The district will get a gifted program. That is a good thing, although I do not believe that it will keep students from the west end of the peninsula from continuing to go to District 21 (Brooklyn) schools, which are considered much safer than Rockaway schools.

Most of the schools in Rockaway will become K-8. I think that the K-8 program shortchanges middle school kids, but I am in the minority in that opinion.

Despite the new parent leadership teams in each district, Regional Super intendents such as Cashin will continue to gain power while parents will continue to lose power.

That is the business model.

The Chancellor is the CEO. The Re gional Superintendents are the district managers. The LIS’s are the managers of the individual branches.

What do the consumers get?

As always, they get the shaft.

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