2008-01-11 / Front Page

Billionaire Eyes Rockaway For Charter School

By Howard Schwach

The eighteenth richest man in America, a Far Rockaway High School graduate, has filed an application to the State University of New York to build a charter school on the peninsula.

Far Rockaway High School graduate Carl Icahn wants to build a charter school in Rockaway. Far Rockaway High School graduate Carl Icahn wants to build a charter school in Rockaway. And, although a school site in the Far Rockaway area has not yet been finalized, corporate raider, financier and equity investor Carl Icahn, who once lived in Rockaway, has pro posed to build and operate a 250-seat elementary charter school.

The plan was outlined at a public hearing that was hastily called for Wednesday night at Beach Channel High School.

At that hearing, officials of the Foundation for Greater Opportunity, and Icahn Scholars Program, leaders in the charter proposal, outlined a program that would include small class size, extended day programs, an extended school year, individual attention, targeted assistance in math and literacy, student mentoring, a core knowledge curriculum and a nurturing environment.

The school's board of trustees would include such luminaries as Icahn himself; Julie Goodyear, the executive director of the Foundation for Greater Opportunity; Sy Fliegel, a former teacher and principal who was, for a time, the superintendent of Community School Board 28; and Edward Shanahan, the headmaster at Choate/Rosemary Hall and former dean of students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

The school, to be called the Carl C. Icahn Charter School Far Rockaway, will rent space somewhere in Rockaway while attempting to find a site for a permanent school, officials say.

It would be the second school to be named after the former Rockaway resident. The first, located in the Bronx, has had success with high-risk students, its proponents say.

"More than 80 percent of its students have achieved proficiency or higher in the state English tests," Jeffrey Litt, the Bronx school's principal, told a sparse group of locals who attended the meeting. "In mathematics, 97 percent of the students have scored slightly above state standard each year."

The school plan must be approved by the State University of New York, which has granted its initial approval, officials say.

The Department of Education hearing that was held at Beach Channel High School on Wednesday night was required by state law.

The fact that the meeting was called without any advance public knowledge angered many locals, and they took that anger out on the DOE representative at the meeting.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, whose representative, Joann Shapiro spoke at the hearing, gave her qualified support to the school.

"I support increasing educational opportunities available to area students," she said.

"As a benefactor of the New York City Public School system, Icahn has firsthand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses that have to be addressed in any school in the city," Pheffer added. "As a Far Rockaway High School alumna, I would have hoped Rockaway to be his first choice for a charter school, not his second, but if it's to be a quality educational institution, we will welcome it."

Pheffer told The Wave that the Department of Education asked her to make a statement, but refused to allow her to see the complete proposal.

"It's hard to give total support to a proposal when they won't allow you to see it," the Assemblywoman said.

Local activist Les Mullings told the officials that they would not get community approval until they actually presented their program to the community and got it involved in the process.

"You come here without telling us about the meeting and tell us you are coming, but you don't know where, and you don't even let us have input into the process. What kind of good neighbor are you going to be?" Mullings asked.

"I'm quite dismayed. There are no parents here tonight because there was no notification. You don't have a location. This doesn't constitute a legal hearing and you have to come back," he added.

The Department of Education representative, however, defended her department's actions.

"The notification for this meeting was done in the standard way," she said. "I can't comment on the notification, but it was done in an adequate manner under our guidelines."

Andrew Baumann, the president of Community Education Council 27, said that he was notified on Friday night of the Wednesday meeting.

Assemblywoman Pheffer got her email on Monday.

The Wave found out about the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, when Pheffer issued a statement about the plan. Wave editors had to contact her office to find out what she was talking about, because the paper got no notification whatsoever from the Department of Education.

And, although the proposal is a public document, the DOE refused to provide it to any of the locals, including the Assemblywoman and the president of the local education council.

The officials from the Bronx Icahn charter school, who came from the Bronx to present their vision, were embarrassed by the department's lack of notification.

"We came here to tell you about our successful program," said Goodyear. "We were invited and we came. We expected to see a full auditorium and to answer the community's concerns. We had nothing to do with the lack of notification."

The school officials promised to return to Rockaway for another meeting whenever it could be scheduled.

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