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13th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 13, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

Riverdale parents are suggesting that a disputed school facility might be used as a charter school that would give local parents the ability to opt out of the city’s unpopular “unified curriculum.” 

    Two weeks ago, the announcement that the Bloomberg administration is planning to put a new high school in the basement of the luxury Whitehall apartment building caused a firestorm of controversy in the northwest Bronx community.
    Since the announcement, school officials have backtracked,insisting that the location is only “temporary.” But local parents and public officials are livid that the school, which is recruiting a student body miles away in the south Bronx, was quietly slipped into Riverdale. 

    The executive committee of Community Board 8 condemned the way the school was located late last week. 

    In a resolution last week, the board “strongly objects to the Department of Education and Region 1’s failure to seek community input in the siting” of the school. 

    Cordell Schachter, president of Community School Board 10, said he was kept in the dark about the department’s plans.The board is likely to add its opposition when it meets Thursday. 

    Ari Hoffnung, a member of the presidium of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council, said the council might consider the issue after Passover. 

    Complicating the situation for the mayor is that a key member of the school’s staff has ties to radical groups and has defended the late Black Muslim Khalid Abdul Muhammad, who was notorious for his anti-Semitic statements. 

    Shmuel Herzfeld, associate Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, stated that he is “deeply concerned about some of the anti-Semitic associations of people involved in the leadership of this school.” 

    The rabbi insisted, “The school leadership must categorically condemn Khalid Muhammad. Unless, that is done immediately, it will be the responsibility of Mayor Bloomberg to step in and do what is right. Mayor Bloomberg bears responsibility.” 

    The Department of Education had refused comment on the association of Sandra Barros, presumably tapped as the parent coordinator of the “Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science,” or the “funmathschool.” 

    Ms. Barros, a parent coordinator at Banana Kelly High School in the South Bronx, is listed as one of the main forces behind the proposed math academy. 

    In the description of the creation of the school, school principal Kenneth Baum describes Ms.Barros as “a parent coordinator and experienced community organizer.” Mr. Baum referred inquiries to the department, which refused comment. Efforts to reach Ms. Barros, both at her home and on her city-supplied cellular telephone, were unsuccessful. 

    Critics claim Ms. Barros’s greatest experience in organizing and activism came as a member of the Hunter College Student Liberation Action Movement, or SLAM!, a quasi-political party heavily involved in Hunter’s student government. 

    Some of the causes that SLAM! is dedicated to include freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row for killing a Philadelphia police officer, and the creation of a Palestinian state. Some Hunter College leaders have described the group as “virulently anti-Israel.” 

    Two days after the weekly Riverdale Review wrote about Ms. Barros’s associations, the education department suggested that new small high schools,such as the “funmathschool,” might not get full-time parent coordinators after all. 

    In an October 26, 1999, article in the Village Voice, Ms. Barros defended Muhammad — a well-known anti-Semite, the organizer of the Million Youth March, and an ally of Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan — and denigrated Mayor Giuliani. 

    In that article, Ms. Barros said she was “less afraid of Khalid’s bark than Giuliani’s bite.” 
    Ms. Barros was also a participant in the National Conference on Organized Resistance in January 2001, where she served as part of a panel discussion entitled “Toward an Inclusive Movement: Racism and the New Left.” 

    “Given that white supremacy has been embedded in capitalism since its very beginnings, it is no surprise that racism continues to be an impediment to the very movements that are committed to struggling for change,” states the panel’s description.“The panel will discuss new ways of talking about coalition building and racism, confronting white skin privilege and breaking through old, divisive assumptions and behaviors.” 

    The space for the proposed school now houses M.S./H.S. 368, a school that was “spun off” from the Riverdale/ Kingsbridge Academy four years ago. M.S./H.S. 368 will move into its own facility in Marble Hill in September. 

    Randi Martos, the co-president of the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy Parents Association, said she was “shocked” the facility was “stolen” from the community “in total secrecy, in the dead of night.” 

    Ms. Martos said parents believe that the facility should be used either for pre-K classes for Riverdale’s youngsters or a neighborhood charter school. Many parents in the Riverdale community are unhappy with the mayor’s curriculum choices. Local schools have been using “balanced literacy” programs put in place several years ago. “The results have not been good,” Ms. Martos said. 

    She was particularly critical of the city’s use of “fuzzy math” programs, which she claimed are “hugely unpopular” among Riverdale’s parents. 

    “Parents here are spending thousands of dollars for tutoring to bring their kids up to speed in math,” she said.“We have local needs.This facility should be used to meet those unmet needs for our children. We strongly object to this attempt to hijack classroom space in our community and give it over to others.” 

    Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a staunch opponent of the “funmathschool” moving into the Whitehall, said he rejected the notion that the school would be in Riverdale just temporarily. 

    “Temporary doesn’t always mean temporary,” Mr. Dinowitz said. “We should use this space appropriately, rather than open this Pandora’s box.” 

    Mr. Dinowitz, Council Member G. Oliver Koppell, and representatives from Rep. Eliot Engel and state Senator Eric Schneiderman’s offices have met with the regional superintendent, Irma Zardoya, to discuss the new school. 

    Messrs. Dinowitz and Koppell asked Ms. Zardoya to place the ‘funmathschool” in the new M.S./H.S. 368 building, which will open in September, and have an estimated 500 empty seats. Ms. Zardoya wants the new school in Riverdale.

© 2004 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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