SCHOOL REFORM MEETING PACKED
By Neil S. Friedman
Despite stormy weather, more than a thousand parents and educators attended last Thursday evening’s Regional Parent/Community Engage -ment meeting at James Madison High School.
Convened by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and the Department of Education (DOE), the meeting was the first opportunity for parents, teachers and administrators in six current community school districts, including Community School District 18, which comprises 17 elementary and intermediate schools in Canarsie and East Flatbush, to meet two recently appointed regional superintendents. It was also the chance to get first-hand insight into the city’s public education reform plan, touted as Children First: A New Agenda for Public Schools in New York City, announced several months ago by Mayor Bloomberg and the Chancellor.
Due to emerging international events and new security measures for New York City, Chancellor Klein was not present last Thursday. Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam introduced the two superintendents for regions 5 and 6 — Kathleen Cashin and Gloria Buckery, respectively. The pair was introduced to parents for the first time since being named in January to the new $165,000-a-year posts, along with seven women and one man for the additional districts, by the mayor and chancellor.
Buckery began her remarks by telling the packed auditorium that she’s been part of the city’s public school system for "50 years — since I attended first grade in Brooklyn." She has spent the last 34 years in city public schools, evolving from elementary school teacher to staff developer to assistant principal. She served as a principal for ten years and is currently the superintendent of the Chancellor’s Brooklyn/Bronx District, where she is credited with turning three failing schools into successes.
Buckery clearly underscored her goals when she stated three succinct points, "One. Education is the great equalizer. If we want our children to be what we want them to be, they must receive a great education.
"Two. If it’s not good enough for my biological child, it’s just not good enough.
"And three. No exceptions, no excuses. Students and parents have as much responsibility as teachers and administrators."
She concluded by saying, "Make challenges your friends. Don’t let them frighten you and make excuses for them. Look forward to them and children will be winners. We will all be winners."
When the mayor announced his superintendent selections in January, he said, "The focus of the reorganization is to create a clear and direct chain of command that emphasizes instruction and accountability in our schools. Regional superintendents will be at the center of our efforts…"
Under the DOE’s plan, the forty current community school districts will be streamlined into ten instructional regions, with District 18 becoming part of Regional District 6, along with District 22 (Sheepshead Bay/Marine Park) and District 17, northwest of Canarsie. Region 6 will be made up of 96 elementary and intermediate schools with a student population exceeding 100,000. The new Region 6 Parent/Learning Support Center will be located at 5619 Flatlands Avenue and is expected to be operating by this summer.
The new superintendents, who may be likened to the DOE’s academic board of directors, will be responsible for the scholastic performances of the pupils within their regions. All but one of the new appointees currently hold administrative positions in existing community school districts.
With the meeting taking place as the war in Iraq was imminent, many parents were concerned about safety in the schools. Deputy Supt. Lam assured the crowd that the Chancellor ordered all principals to review their school’s safety and evacuation plans and make them available for parents to examine.
Current superintendent Paula LeCompte Speed confirmed this week that every principal in District 18 was alerted and told to send a letter home with every student to apprise parents that they could scrutinize the plan at each school.
P.S. 115 Principal Mitchell Pinsky said this week that he had complied with the alert, as did an administrator at P.S. 279.