Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dinowitz raps principal for Jewish Holy Day teacher 'training'

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz strongly criticized the principal of P.S. 7 in Kingsbridge for opening the school during the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for professional development sessions for teachers.
“I am shocked and appalled that teachers would be asked to come to the school for professional development during the High Holy Days when this training could have been held on an already scheduled professional development day, such as Election Day,” stated Dinowitz.
Teachers at the school were notified last Wednesday by principal Renee Cloutier of training in the use of “Smartboards” – electronic blackboards – on September 30th and October 9th from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.
After complaints were made to the United Federation of Teachers, Cloutier assured teachers, presumably Jewish teachers, that a special “alternate” date would be scheduled for them.
“It is insulting and patronizing that teachers are told they could chose an ‘alternate’ date,” noted Dinowitz. “We know that teachers will feel pressured to come in on the original dates despite their religious considerations, and that those who don’t would fear retribution.”
Participation in professional development training can be used as a pre-requisite for obtaining certain hourly per-session jobs valued by teachers for extra income. Throwing roadblocks such as scheduling these sessions during Jewish Holidays or act as a disincentive for black teachers who might want to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, might be considered to be a discriminatory practice.
Cloutier, with but three years experience in the classroom herself, is a graduate of Chancellor Klein’s Leadership Academy, criticized for training “instant principals.” She was given control of the school two years ago, when she was only 28 years old, an event that sparked a questioning article in The New York Times.
In the past year, the school slipped from a grade of “A” to a “C,” according to the Department of Education.

Engel supports financial bailout

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review 10/02/2008

Congressman Eliot Engel was one of the 205 Congressional supporters of the proposed bailout plan for Wall Street that was met with defeat on Monday.
The $700 billion bailout plan lost by a vote of 228-205, with a conglomeration of conservative Republicans and left-wing Democrats banding together to defeat the bill.
Elsewhere in The Bronx Congressman Joseph Crowley voted to supported the measure. Congressman Jose Serrano, representing the South Bronx, was one of 95 Democrats to vote against the bill.
Following the vote, Engel called the bill's failure a "great disappointment."
"This was a loss for all Americans," said Engel. "I voted for this measure because I believed it was in the best long and short term interest of the nation."
Engel said that the failure to pass the bailout would have extremely dire effects on the economy of not only New York, but the country as a whole. While the bill was not perfect, said Engel, it was the best bill we had.
"Unfortunately, there were members today were more interested in voting their ideology saying it was 'my way or the highway,'" said Engel. "Other members appeared to be certain to vote 'no' on any version. This is not leadership; this is crass politics."
Engel added, "The reaction of the stock market shows that the markets were waiting for leadership, and instead they got politics."
Engel said he was hopeful that a different rescue plan could be developed to save Wall Street and the New York economy, and urged Congress to act as soon as possible.
"I remain hopeful a rescue package will promptly return to the House floor for a vote, as this crisis is not going to magically disappear overnight," said Engel. "The city, the state, and the nation are waiting."
Serrano explained that he voted against the bill because he felt it did not do enough to protect the average American.
"I understand the need to shore up our nation's big banks to prevent a larger problem, but I cannot support such an action if it does nothing to help the millions of people facing foreclosure," said Serrano. "Leaving them out of this package is shortsighted and guarantees that we will have to address the problem in the next Congress."
Serrano added, "We must face the fact that the crisis in Wall Street stems from a mortgage crisis on Main Street. If we only bail out Wall Street, we have not addressed the root cause of the problem."
The congressman called the bailout a tax on his constituents, and said his people should not have to pay for the mistakes of Wall Street.
"Where was this concern over the past year when our communities have suffered from the mortgage crisis? For them we were told: 'they got in over their heads and must take responsibility for their actions.' But when the rich bankers get in over their heads, we're told they must be rescued," said Serrano.
Serrano continued, "The other downside for working families that no one is mentioning is that when the bill for this bailout comes due, we'll be told that we cannot afford many of the programs that help regular people—programs like healthcare and education. So not only are we ignoring them now, but we'll be forced to ignore them in the future as we pay off the debt from this package. That's a bad deal twice over."
The congressman added that he could have supported a more balanced bill.
"I am sad to say that it was not balanced," said Serrano.

P.S. 81 principal Melodie Mashel hints at change in math curriculum

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review 10/02/2008

For the first time since she took the reins of P.S. 81 five years ago, Principal Melodie Mashel met with the community-at-large this past week to discuss her vision for the school.
Mashel sat for about one hour for an informal chat with the members of the Community Board #8 education committee last Tuesday, during which she discussed school successes and failures, curriculum and her ongoing overcrowding problem.
Mashel noted that P.S. 81 students use the "Everyday Math" curriculum, a constructivist or "fuzzy" math curriculum that has been heavily criticized in recent years as leaving students unprepared for the traditional math that appears on the SAT.
Mashel said that she has seen some problems with "Everyday Math," and supplements it in the classroom with other material.
"There are a lot of holes in it. There are a lot of gaps," said Mashel. "So we've been toying with the idea of switching over. However, we really haven't found anything that's comparable."
Mashel was asked if being an empowerment school meant she could pick and choose her own curriculum at will. She said yes.
"It's a wonderful sense of freedom, in the sense that we can take a look at our curriculum and design it to meet the specific needs of our student population," said Mashel. "We can also select our own material at this point."
Mashel said that she is looking at several other curriculums, including the much-heralded "Singapore Math" traditional math program, but has not come to any decisions yet.
"We were looking at five different programs, none of which were really that thrilling and exciting," said Mashel, who added that she is holding off to see data and progress rates from other schools.
The principal was also asked if she felt that "Everyday Math" contributed to poor math scores in the sixth grade class at the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. She said no, instead blaming the poor student performance in sixth grade on the shock of leaving elementary school for middle school, something she said could be "horrific."
Last week the Department of Education announced that P.S. 81 had scored a "C" on its annual progress report, down from a "B" last year. Mashel explained when the grade was released that her school is busting at the seams, and that her overcrowding problem is seriously affecting school performance.
At the meeting Mashel repeated those concerns, noting that her school is above cap in grades two and three.
"And we still have students trying to register, and unfortunately we have to turn them away," said Mashel.
Up until 1993 students in the southern portion of the current P.S. 81 zone were zoned for P.S. 7. Right now, P.S. 7 has hundreds of empty seats, while P.S. 81 is filled to capacity. Mashel was asked if she would push the DOE to return to the old zoning, to which she replied that she had engaged in discussions with Councilman G. Oliver Koppell about such a move. At this time, she said, it was not feasible.
"Until those lines are drawn to meet the need of every community member, I would be reluctant to do that," said Mashel.
Mashel was also asked if she would be interested in using portables to relieve her overcrowding problem. "Absolutely not," she said, adding that it was important for the entire community to keep the schoolyard open for neighborhood use.
As for the future of that playground, Mashel noted that she had received a City Council grant that will allow for the creation of some new features, such as tables and chairs suitable for reading or chess.
She added that her school has created a number of new after-school clubs and activities, including bookmaking, debate, designing board games, and drama. Mashel is also looking to bring a mock-United Nations program to the school. During lunch, students can now take advantage of chess and math clubs.
The principal said the new offerings were all designed to let kids be kids.
"Quite candidly, I feel that children need a break from testing and assessment," said Mashel. "And I think they need time just to be children and veg out."

Discredited Dems desperate to keep control

by Candice M. Giove
Riverdale Review 10/02/2008

The start of the Bronx Democratic County Committee meeting erupted in chaos, as elected officials loyal to party boss Jose Rivera took control of the election, gave the post back to Rivera, and ran out of the Utopia Paradise Theatre on the Grand Concourse.
Rainbow Rebellion leaders casted it as illegitimate spectacle, and went on to conduct a much calmer, by-the-books election, selecting Assemblyman Carl Heastie as the new county leader.
Determining which election stands will likely fall into the hands of the court by the end of the week.
"This was a schizophrenic evening," said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. "Unfortunately the first meeting was more of a show of buffoonery and they really made a mockery of the democratic system."
Rivera flooded the auditorium with people, who waved bi-lingual signs proclaiming "Jose Rivera Stays." Though people did fill the seats to favor Rivera, it remains unclear how many of those people were legitimate members of the county committee. Some attendees seemed clueless as to why they were there, and reportedly some senior citizens bused in by the Rivera camp believed they were attending a show.
Legitimate county committee members remained bottlenecked in the theatre's lobby, where they had to stop and sign in to verify their presence. Most of those stuck outside were loyal to the Rainbow Rebellion. Councilwoman Maria Baez seized on the jam, took the microphone and started a meeting. She installed a temporary executive board and filled vacancies on the county committee, though none of those attendees were vetted.
"They tried through mob rule to try to retain control of the county organization – even though they had the support of a small minority – by bringing in hundreds of people who aren't eligible to vote here because they were not county committee members," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.
Each committee member signed his or her name into a book, and received a yellow wristband to show their status as a person eligible to vote. Dinowitz's glasses were scratched up by Rivera supporters who tried to wrest those rolls from people overseeing the 11 sign-in tables. "I guess they wanted to destroy the legitimate records of the legitimate meeting and so they wanted to grab the books," he said.
In a video interview with the New York Observer, Councilwoman Baez claims that Assemblyman Dinowitz assaulted Rivera allies.
While up on the stage at the theatre Baez conducted voting by soliciting an "aye" or "nay" from the crowd, though there was no way to distinguish the screams of legitimate voting members from the others. And even though at times the "nays" far outweighed the affirmative cheers Baez ignored them.
"She was not authorized according to the rules to conduct a meeting. The chairman was present. The court ruled that he was supposed to run the meeting," Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene said, referring to Judge Robert Seewald's opinion which makes clear that Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the executive committee's chair, would run the election.
During the pandemonium, the Rivera allies created a new executive board: Assemblyman Jose Rivera, chairman; Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, first vice chair; Assemblyman Peter Rivera, second vice chair; Councilman Larry Seabrook, second vice chair; Latisha Seabrook, secretary; Gerald Sheiowitz, treasurer; Richard Izquierdo-Arroyo, sergeant-at-arms; and Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, parliamentarian. Koppell was booed by a large contingent of county committee members from his district.
Before the show was over, Assemblyman Rivera took his spot on stage. "They wanted to have a party?" he yelled. "We are having a party."
With that, Rivera's supporters and Rivera-aligned elected officials rushed out of the doors. They took the microphones with them.
"He had a chance to leave with dignity and he chose just the opposite," said rebel Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. "It's very sad."
Assemblyman Heastie began a much more civilized meeting and carefully followed procedural rules. First, county committee members elected a new executive slate: Assemblyman Dinowitz, county committee chairman; Councilwoman Anabel Palma, first vice chair; Assemblywoman Greene, secretary; Assemblyman Benedetto, treasurer; Howard Vargas, counsel; Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, parliamentarian; and Hector Ramirez, sergeant-at-arms.
That slate, along with 15 of the Bronx's 24 district leaders, voted for Heastie as the new county leader. The Rivera vote was done vocally, and without the district leaders.
Though the evening put the intense fracture in Bronx politics on display, Heastie hopes to patch things up. "It's going to be a tough task, but from what we witnessed tonight it may be a little tougher than I first thought," he said.
Assemblyman Michael Benjamin said that their slate better represents The Bronx. "We want to show that the new Bronx Democratic Party is going to serve all communities and will not be about self and family and close friends," he said. "It's about democracy in our borough."
Rebels said that the evening's election would most likely wind up in court.
Michael Nieves, a spokesman for Jose Rivera, doesn't see need for legal action. "As far as I'm concerned we conducted a meeting and we won. If they disagree because they conducted a meeting after ours they need to go to court."
Both Rivera and Heastie sent out press releases claiming victory.
The Heastie release provides the district leader vote count to substantiate the victory. It calls the first half of Sunday evening "a failed effort to retain control of the party by a small and shrinking faction."
Rivera's release boasts an overwhelming victory. "In a year when Jose Rivera's leadership was challenged, Bronx Democrats showed their appreciation for Jose Rivera's contributions to the people of the Bronx by arriving by feet, car, train and buses to cast their vote. Bronx Democrats have spoken. Jose Rivera remains the Chairman of the Democratic Party."
A Rivera spokesman could not immediately provide any vote tally.