2010-02-12 / Letters

Smith Strikes Out

Dear Editor,

On Friday evening January 22, our State Senator, Malcolm Smith, introduced a new system of communicating with his constituents called a Virtual Town Hall meeting. The Virtual Town Hall computer technology may be useful when a public official is out of town and cannot meet with his constituents.

In this case it was used by Sen. Smith to avoid facing his constituents who are overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed closing of Beach Channel High School.

The panel consisted of Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm and two minor Ed Dep’t bureaucrats, Lenny Speiller of the Executive Office of Public Affairs and Debra Kurshan, Portfolio Planning. None referred to any teaching experience or any actual observation of local conditions. They based their argument for closing the school on registration and 4 year graduation rate. No representatives of the teachers, parents or students were present. No one presented the story of Beach Channel’s glorious past or the destructive Ed Department’s destructive decisions of the past few years.

In the late 1960s Rockaway needed a new high school because of severe overcrowding at Far Rockaway High School. Local residents opposed a location on Beach 92 Street (now Peninsula Library) which would have required demolition of neighboring homes.

When the Board of Education proposed building an $8 million school on landfill in Jamaica Bay, we were shocked at the cost, but supported the construction of a landmark building with a gorgeous view. We knew that once a school was built it would be available to our children and community forever.

Comprehensive high schools have the capacity to provide much more than small charter schools. Unless charter schools are allowed to cherry pick their own students, they are unlikely to have enough outstanding students to form Advanced Placement classes that give students “ college credit or enough talented student athletes to form competitive sports teams. Comprehensive high schools can be, and now often are, programmed to provide the small groups that allow personal attention for each student.

It appears that the closing of Beach Channel High School is an immoral land grab for the benefit of privately run charter schools. Education is an essential and expensive business. It used to be controlled by educators, parents and communities. Now, private businesses and consultants skim off a large share of the budget before the funds get down to the classroom. Without the funds to build their own buildings, charter schools find it necessary to destroy public community schools to get real estate. BCHS, its present and future students, and the Rockaway community are the victims.

State Senator Malcolm Smith is paid to speak for our community. Based on the format used on his Virtual Town Hall it is apparent that Sen. Smith has already made his decision to help close BCHS. Sen. Smith has had a close personal relationship with the local Peninsula Prep which currently operates in temporary metal buildings on a construction site. Whether this dual relationship is a violation of law or ethics is a question law enforcement and the ethics committee should decide. Sen. Smith should publicly recuse himself from any role in the decision to close BCHS. The Panel for Educational Policy should reject or table the motion to close BCHS.

At the time this is written, it appears that the PEP is under heavy pressure to approve this closing. Should that happen, our community should continue to fight in court, political campaigns and public meetings to save this school as a zoned school for local residents and with screened and audition programs in such areas as oceanography, art and architecture.


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