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9th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 9, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

The secret effort by officials of the Department of Education to open a new middle/high school in the center of the Riverdale community in the northwest Bronx demonstrates what is wrong with the “reform” that has put the mayor in charge of the schools without oversight. With no consultation with anyone in the community, this “stealth school” is being set up in the basement of a luxury apartment building,space previously used as an annex to the local schools across the street. A student body to fill it is being recruited miles away in the South Bronx. 

    The proposed school is named the “funmathschool,” and its program is a mix of math games and tricks, along with a dose of left-wing political indoctrination. This project comes from the midlevel educrats of Region One, known for their hostility to Riverdale and its educational aspirations, rather than from City Hall or Tweed. Every other similar new school in the Bronx will be in an existing high school. Only Riverdale has been targeted with a freestanding new school. It will be a measure of the political astuteness of Mayor Bloomberg whether he listens to the pleas of a community that supported him in the last election, or risk its ire at the polls when they deliver to him the “accountability” over the education issue that mayoral control implies. 
    Riverdale’s parents, who for years have begged for public earlychildhood facilities in their community for their 
children, are again being snubbed. For years, they have advocated that this space be used for that purpose. They are angry that it is being taken from them. 

    This is taking place against the backdrop of Mr. Bloomberg’s new emphasis on providing early childhood classes for children as young as three. Unless, of course, you happen to live in a community,like Riverdale,perceived of as middle class. 

    Because so many Riverdalians live in co-op apartments, this community has long been among the most highly taxed in the city. Yet there are few neighborhoods that have been more ill-served than Riverdale when it comes to educational policy. 

    For years, a zoning plan resulted in what was literally the theft of the seats in the community’s middle school, M.S. 141. Similar insensitivity removed John F. Kennedy High School as an option for local parents.The elimination of gifted and talented programs in Riverdale resulted in an 80% decline in the number of admissions to specialized high schools.Is it any wonder that thousands have left, and continue to leave, Riverdale for Westchester and Rockland? 

    In 1999, residents of Riverdale had enough. In record numbers they came out and voted in the Community School Board election and seized control of their local schools. The “stolen”middle school was reclaimed,rezoned, and expanded to include a high school component.The new Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy led to the beginning of a turnaround. Middle class students began to trickle back to the public schools for the first time in a generation. 

    However, for Riverdale, mayoral control has been a disaster. In 1999, the ability to vote for a Community School Board with powers over zoning and educational policy was the vehicle through which they were able to reverse the disastrous situation they found themselves in. For this community, the elimination of the safety valve of democracy has thus far validated their greatest fears. 

    The former deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, Diana Lam, may be gone, but the progressive ideology she brought to city classrooms lives on. The now-toothless Riverdalebacked school board, reflecting the traditional beliefs that have worked so well for the children of its community for so many years, voted against the use of “fuzzy” math and Month-by-Month Phonics, presaging the rejection of that reading program by the federal government. But they were ignored and now the School Board will be eliminated. 

    Worse, Ms. Lam empowered, without restraint, the same leadership that thwarted Riverdale’s reform agenda prior to the 1999 School Board election.Is it any wonder that parents and residents of this besieged Bronx middle-class enclave look upon the establishment of an unwanted commuter school in their midst, and the rejection of the use of this space for their own children, as ant attempt by Region One educrats to undo the hard-won results Riverdale achieved through the democratic process five years ago? 

    In a city where a restaurant-owner can’t put a table outside his establishment without being subjected to a public hearing, the idea that a new high school can be opened in a huge apartment building neighborhood without any input from those living near it is frightening. 

    The existence of this plot was learned of only by accident. The school was formed,the principal named, the faculty and “community organizing” staff hired, the curriculum developed, a brochure printed, a Web site designed, and students recruited from the South Bronx, all in secret without the Riverdale community being informed. 

    Nobody told the Community Board. Nobody told the Community School Board. Nobody told the board of directors of the Whitehall apartment building where the school will be located that the space it leased to the Department of Education as an annex to the school across the street was going to be used for a different purpose. 

    Nobody told City Councilmember Oliver Koppell; neither did they inform Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz nor Congressman Eliot Engel. Nobody told even the principals of the two neighborhood schools directly across the street, even though there are firm plans to use their facilities to provide physical education instruction and other services to the new school. 

    Lest there be any doubt of the agenda at play, a community organizer was recruited for this project who has long and disturbing ties to radical groups and was a defender of the late anti-Semite Khalid Abdul Muhammad,an associate of the Black Muslim minister, Louis Farrakhan. One of the course offerings at the “funmathschool” is entitled “Mathematics and Social Justice.” Now that their plot is exposed, the educrats of Region One are telling community leaders that the commuter school being situated here is just “temporary,” and will be removed in two years. But by trying to set this school up in secret, they betrayed the trust of the community. 

    Two years from now brings us to a point well beyond the 2005 mayoral election, the one and only time Mr. Bloomberg can be held accountable for the actions of his underlings.That’s why Riverdale’s political and community leadership is demanding that project must be abandoned or relocated now before Mr. Bloomberg comes to the voters for support. Residents of Riverdale are well aware that once November 2005 passes, they will have no way to hold the mayor accountable if any promise made now is broken.That is the new reality of mayoral control in the era of term limits.

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

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