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3rd March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 3 , 2003
By Andrew Wolf

Parents and alumni of the Bronx High School of Science are alarmed that their school may be removed from the direct supervision of the chancellor and come under the control of a superintendent with a track record of opposing gifted and talented programs.

Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and the other specialized high schools would, under the restructuring plan proposed by Chancellor Joel Klein, likely be supervised by the newly installed regional superintendents.
Under this plan, the 32 Community School Districts would be combined into these 10 regions, and the high school divisions eliminated.

This means the Bronx High School of Science’s instructional program will be overseen by the current District 10 superintendent, Irma Zardoya, who is slated to head the new Region 1, which covers the west Bronx.
Parents and alumni are concerned because Ms. Zardoya has what they perceive to be a record of opposition to gifted and talented programs during her nearly nine years as superintendent of District 10.

This does not sit well with Stefan Mayer, a Riverdale resident who is the president of the Bronx High School of Science Parents Association. He views the change as a violation of an agreement with the former chancellor, Harold Levy, which put Bronx Science under the direct control of the chancellor’s office.

“We now have an agreement that our school reports to the chancellor’s office,” Mr. Mayer said. “We view this proposed change as a double step backward. Two years ago, we negotiated so that we wouldn’t be part of a local district. But at least the district that we were once part of only covered high schools.”Now we find ourselves in a catchall region that covers everything from kindergarten on up. Nobody consulted with us. We view this as a broken promise.”

That agreement followed an embarrassing episode two years ago after a contentious selection process for a new principal.

The dispute pitted parents and alumni against the Bronx high school superintendent’s office, which then oversaw the school.

It ended when the popular acting principal of Bronx Science left for a job in the suburbs.
The outraged school community demanded a change in the structure of oversight under which the school operated.When the dust cleared, Bronx Science was put under the direct control of the chancellor’s office.

This pleased Mr. Mayer, who notes that the school is not local in nature, drawing students from all of the five boroughs.

Ted Weinstein, a member of Community School Board 10, and a graduate of Bronx Science, agreed.
“This is not merely a local school,” he said.”It has a citywide constituency and it must come under the central authority. The specialized high schools should not be part of any local region or network.These schools must get the proper attention and treatment they deserve.”

And while the structural issue is foremost in the minds of the critics of the plan, lurking in the background is the reality that Ms. Zardoya would be in a position to perhaps select the school’s next principal.
The Web site of New York City Advocates for Children noted that Ms. Zardoya “has angered some parents by her opposition to gifted programs. A progressive educator, she believes that children learn best when they work with others of different abilities.”That, parents and alumni feel, is the opposite of the philosophy that created the Bronx High School of Science.

They are concerned that during Ms. Zardoya’s tenure as superintendent of District 10, the number of students getting into Bronx Science and the other main specialized high schools has declined by more than two thirds, even though the pupil population of the district has increased by 25%.

In 1998, acting at the direction of the superintendent’s staff, the principal of M.S. 141 in Riverdale shut down the school’s popular honors program, raising howls from angry parents. Within months, the program was restored, but battle lines were drawn. That incident, as well as Ms. Zardoya’s opposition to creating a high school in Riverdale, led to the landslide election of a new District 10 Community School Board in 1999.
The newly elected board directed Ms. Zardoya to change course. A districtwide science fair, which had been abandoned years earlier, was restored.

But the event has become most notable for the refusal to award prizes to the best exhibits. Similarly, the district has refused to participate in the citywide spelling bee, in line with “progressive” educational philosophy, which critics charge values concern over the “self-esteem” of the losers above the achievements of the winners.

Ms. Zardoya, speaking through Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, denies she has been resistant to programs for academically advanced students.

“I strongly believe in a diversity of programs such as gifted and talented programs to engage and educate our high performing children. All of our (District 10) middle schools have honors programs with specific entrance criteria.We also offer after school and Saturday classes to support students in academically advanced and enrichment programs.”

Ms. Zardoya forwarded a 29-page guide to these programs. But critics of the district’s efforts in the area, such as Mr. Weinstein, maintain that whatever programs are in place are as a result of pressure by the school board members.

“The programs finally instituted still do not achieve the desired goals,” he said. “One result of this failure to challenge all children to the maximum of their potential has been the very low numbers of district children qualifying to attend specialized high schools.”

While Mr. Mayer would not criticize Ms. Zardoya directly, he did note that “the district does not have a record of strong support of the idea of gifted education or specialized high schools. We would certainly prefer being under the direction of an educator with a firm belief in the core values of our institution.”
Marshall Jaffe, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bronx Science Alumni Association, is also concerned.

“The needs of the specialized high schools are very different from other schools in the system,” he said. “They must be managed in a way that reflects their unique needs, and led by individuals who are sympathetic to their vital mission.”

Mr. Jaffe pointed out the tremendous contribution of the school’s alumni to the city and nation. He noted that Daniel Libeskind, just selected as the architect to redevelop the World Trade Center site, is yet another Bronx Science alumnus.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Riverdale, another graduate of the school and the parent of a current student, vows to take whatever actions are necessary to protect the specialized high schools.
“These are the jewels in our educational crown,” he noted. “I am investigating what legal remedies may be available in current or new law.I believe that Bronx Science must continue to be administered under central control.”

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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