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25th May

First Published in The New York Sun, May 25, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

Public schools in Riverdale may again get gifted and talented programs following a meeting between the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, and parents in the Bronx.

The chancellor traveled to Riverdale Tuesday evening, fulfilling a long-standing promise to speak to the Education Committee of Bronx Community Board 8. A few weeks ago, the issue of gifted and talented programs,long festering in the background, took center stage.
Parents and community leaders already knew that there was little in the way of programs designed to help gifted children in this community.For the most part, that is not Mr. Klein’s fault, but rather the result of the 12-year tenure of Superintendent Irma Zardoya, who opposed any program that identified children by ability.While Mr. Klein retained and promoted Ms. Zardoya after the mayor took charge of the schools, by that time she had already dismantled most of these programs.

Mr. Klein’s bad luck was the recent disclosure that there was not a single self-contained seat for gifted and talented children not only in Riverdale but throughout Region One, which covers the west Bronx. None of the other nine regions have been stripped of programs for academically advanced students. Thus, people have been focusing on the results of Ms. Zardoya’s stewardship, and this was the first item that Mr. Klein was confronted with Tuesday night.

The issue was raised by parent leader Randi Martos, who was brought up in Riverdale, a product of local schools and the Bronx High School of Science.When I first encountered her a decade ago, she was the president of the Parents’ Association of P.S. 24, one of Riverdale’s two elementary schools.

Ms. Martos says she is “sickened” by educational policies that have driven many Riverdalians to the suburbs. A few years ago,she was a leader in the fight to rezone Riverdale’s middle school and create a high school, a quest that led, in 1999, to the creation of the Riverdale/ Kingsbridge Academy, covering grades 6–12. Ms. Martos is now the president of the parents association at this newly constituted school.She now views the gifted and talented issue as the top concern that local parents — and prospective parents — have with Riverdale’s schools.

“For years we have watched as our friends and neighbors moved out of this great community because our local schools were forbidden to offer such programs to bright children,” she told Mr. Klein. “This is truly a case where bad public policy led to the flight of our middle class.”

The chancellor was ready with a response. He promised that there would be a gifted and talented program created “in the community,” but not until September 2007. While any program in a community where there are none is good news, parents and community leaders left unsatisfied.

A quick start to a gifted program would have been a dramatic stroke. Schools already have lists of incoming kindergarten registrants.The Web site of Riverside Publishing shows that materials to administer their Stanford Binet I.Q. test to 25 children can be purchased for just $464. A 20% surcharge will insure rush delivery that can have the test in the hands of principals by next week.

There are some issues. One is the question of what “in the community” means. Every attendee of the meeting has his own interpretation of the chancellor’s intent. Is it the hilltop community of Riverdale, or does it also include the Kingsbridge community at the bottom of the hill? Is it all of District 10, or the entirety of Region 1? The education department did not have a ready answer.

To incoming kindergarten children and their parents, this is their one-time chance. The message sent to the chancellor Tuesday evening was that this is a program for which Riverdale hungers. Satisfying the growing hunger for these programs may well be the decisive issue that will define the success or failure of mayoral control of the schools.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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