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10th February
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, February 10, 2003
By Andrew Wolf

When Chancellor Joel Klein arrives at Lehman High School in the Bronx for tonight’s monthly meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, hundreds of angry parents and community leaders will likely be waiting for him.

They are upset over the structural and personnel changes he and the mayor have proposed in shotgun fashion since the mayor delivered his Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech on education.

Initial enthusiasm turned to anger as parents learned the details of Mr. Klein’s plans. Parents are particularly unhappy with the replacement of the two superintendents who led the borough’s two highest performing districts with an unknown, mid-level bureaucrat.
The chance location of the meeting, in the middle of District 8 in the southeast Bronx, gives local parents unhappy with the replacement of their popular, Harvard-trained administrator, Dr. Betty Rosa, the opportunity to vent their anger.

The protests are expected to overshadow the proceedings of the all-butinvisible oversight agency that was supposed to perform some of the functions of the old Board of Education.

So impotent is the new panel, and so secretive is the Bloomberg administration, that members first learned many of the specifics of Mr. Klein’s plans through press accounts.

Some of the fears have to do with the imposition of a new structure that will no longer reflect neighborhoods.
Under Mayor Bloomberg’s restructuring plan, the city’s current 32 school districts will be lumped into 10 “mega districts,” each led by a regional superintendent. Each of these districts would be further divided into 10 “networks” or “clusters” of schools led by a second-tier supervisor.

The clusters that will be formed are expected to have no relationship to geography or neighborhoods.
In the new Region 9 that will cover the East Side of Manhattan and part of the south Bronx, a “network” could in
clude a school on the Lower East Side, another in Kips Bay, one in East Harlem, and yet another near Yankee Stadium. Several different administrators could be responsible for the schools in each neighborhood.

This structure has enraged members of Community School Board 10 in the northwest Bronx, who voted Thursday night to condemn the plans, charging, “the new structure would have a deleterious effect on the education of children.”

The board also rejected the chancellor’s curriculum choices in reading and math.They criticized “Month by Month Phonics,” the reading program used in their district which achieved poor results, stating they are “unconvinced that this program provides enough phonics instruction, despite its title.”

In addition, they denounced the choice of “Everyday Math,” objecting “to the primacy of constructivist programs” over traditional instruction.

To the chagrin of many parents in the east Bronx, Dr. Rosa and District 11 Superintendent Marlene Filewich are slated to lose their jobs. They lead the two highest performing districts in the borough. Replacing them will be Laura Rodriguez, a deputy superintendent in the Bronx High School office.

The parents’ concerns have grown after they learned the particulars of Ms. Rodriguez’s resume.Never having served as a principal or assistant principal, Ms. Rodriguez spent only five years as a bilingual teacher in South Bronx High School. Most of her career was spent in the bureaucracy, running the city’s poorly performing bilingual programs. From there she went to the Bronx High School Superintendent’s office.
This does not sit well with Rev. Ruben Diaz, a key Latino leader, who recently was elected to a seat in the New York State Senate. His district lies almost entirely in Ms. Rosa’s district.

“Dr. Rosa’s qualifications are much higher and her achievements are more impressive than either [Irma] Zardoya [the chancellor’s choice for the west Bronx region] or Rodriguez,” Reverend Diaz charged.
The new senator, who served last year in the City Council, noted that the first bill he ever introduced was for mayoral control of the Board of Education. “I’m beginning to regret it now,” he observed. “This is not what I had in mind.”

Similarly, Co-op City parent Rodney Saunders, a member of Community School Board 11 in the northeast Bronx was saddened by the imminent departure of his superintendent, Ms. Filewich. “She is very sincere about education.As far as the parents and school board are concerned, she always gave us 100%, and the results show it.”

Dennis Coleman, a resident of Castle Hill and a member of Community School Board 8, blames the “outsiders” who are now running the schools.

“Public school parents are fed up with these so-called educational experts from out of town who come in here, spend two or three years, wreak havoc with the educational growth of our public school children, and leave,” Mr. Coleman said.

Kathi Marotta, the former Parents’ Association president of P.S. 71 in Pelham Bay, was upset to hear that Ms. Rosa was passed over. She is concerned that Ms. Rosa’s replacement has no experience dealing with elementary and middle schools.

“I don’t see how she can replace someone with Dr. Rosa’s experience,” Ms. Marotta said.
The closed selection process also upset Mr. Coleman.

“I think its time that we recognize the very highly qualified professional educators in New York City who have had successful track records of achievement for children in our schools,” he said. “People such as Dr. Rosa, Marlene Filewich, and Claire McIntee of District 26 in Queens.”

Terry Wong, the PTA President of the Maritime Academy (M.S. 101), now the top-performing school in the Bronx, is angry with how this came about. “The first initiative that the chancellor and mayor came up with was that parents were to have a bigger role. But the first thing they did was to exclude us when they made all these decisions.”

There was much support for attempts being made by State Senator Guy Velella, the Bronx Republican whose district overlaps both Ms. Rosa’s and Ms. Filewich’s areas, to re-open the process.

“The mayor has overstepped his authority,” Mr. Velella said. “The legislature has established a commission to discuss these issues. The mayor should let the commission do its work, which will still have to be evaluated by the Justice Department, before he goes off and creates a structure that may have to be changed.”

Mr. Coleman, a Democrat, said, “I applaud the Republican state senators for their efforts on behalf of public school children and their insistence in having the current school districts remain.

“I’m so disgusted with the ‘Tweed Crew’ that I fear that history will repeat itself with the Tweed name,” he said. “Only God can save our public school children as a result of what I see happening.”

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

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