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Have you taken a look at the puff pieces the DOE is running on its new site? Some of them are silly but others are pretty interesting. I don't think the stories are archived anywhere, but the piece up right now is about the heads of the SchoolFood program showing off the "healthy, locally grown food" that school cafeterias are now serving. Schools are serving some fruits and vegetables grown in New York State, as well as yogurt produced in the state. Eating locally is better for the environment and can help kids establish healthy eating habits, so I hope kids are learning why canned corn has been replaced by "Confetti Corn Salad" on their styrofoam trays. Now if only the schools can figure out how to get rid of the environmentally unfriendly styrofoam altogether, as parents at PS 154 in Brooklyn are calling for.
The DOE's capital plan doesn't call for too many new schools in the next few years, to the dismay of parents and advocates for small class size, but the DOE announced groundbreaking on two new buildings this week. In Manhattan, East Side Middle School is getting a new building of its own in 2009, after sharing space with PS 158 for years. And Cypress Hills Community School in Brooklyn will also get its own building in 2009, complete with multi-purpose room, cafeteria, "community room," and library.
The DOE was eager to emphasize that the East Side Middle School building is being constructed without public funds, through a public-private partnership with the developers of a new residential building. Mayor Bloomberg is hot on public-private partnerships, for good reason: they let wealthy companies buy the city things it can't afford. In the case of the school, the developers will rent air rights from the city in exchange for paying for the school, allowing them to construct a 34-story residential tower that would otherwise have been prohibited. (Perhaps this is the kind of deal developers seeking to construct a view-obscuring building in DUMBO are angling for?) While the city should be willing to foot the bill for building schools, this sounds like a great solution to the DOE's pressing space needs. But this particular fix is likely to work in areas with lots of new construction by wealthy development companies. I wonder what the city has planned for overcrowded schools in neighborhoods that will never need or want a skyscraper.
Joel Klein is the featured guest tonight on Comedy Central's satirical "Colbert Report." While Stephen Colbert is not known for conducting hard-hitting interviews, it should be fun to see the chancellor get a kind of question he's not used to. The Post reports that Klein's new PR guru Kerri Lyon, who is charged with getting more positive stories about the DOE into the press, asked "Colbert Report" producers for the slot.
"Colbert Report," 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central (Channel 45)
Yesterday the City Council voted almost unanimously to override Mayor Bloomberg's veto of the bill it passed last month permitting students to take their cell phones to and from school. But the mayor says the council's move "doesn't mean anything," because he controls what happens inside the schools, and he is set on not allowing any phones to ring. It's ironic that this saga is coming to a head six years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when cell phones proved an absolute relief to parents and kids citywide. And the news about the administration at Jamaica High School prohibiting school staff from calling 911 even in emergencies seems like yet another argument for kids to be able to bring cell phones to school.
Kids and teachers at Jamaica High School were surprised last week to find that the school had a new principal; now, they have a clue as to why Principal Jay Dickler was yanked from the school just days before the beginning of the school year, besides the fact that the school was recently added to the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools.
Yesterday, the Daily News reported that an assistant principal issued a directive last year ordering school staff not to call 911 "for any reason," which might have contributed to the fact that an ambulance was not called for more than an hour when a Jamaica student suffered a stroke in April. One wonders how much more quickly the student would have gotten medical attention if she or her friends had cell phones, which students cannot smuggle into Jamaica because it has metal detectors.
The situation also adds to persistent questions about whether schools suppress information about violent incidents to improve their statistics. "This is a tragic result of what happens when everything comes down to data," UFT President Randi Weingarten told the Daily News.
Chancellor Klein said the DOE would investigate the situation, although both Dickler and the assistant principal who wrote the memo are no longer at the school. Dickler has been reassigned as the head of a suspension center and the assistant principal is now a teacher at Hillcrest High School, the Daily News reports.
Today, the Daily News notes that a student at a Brooklyn elementary school died in 2003 after suffering an asthma attack; staff members' reluctance to call 911 may have contributed to his death. That child's family filed a lawsuit against the DOE early this year. Shortly afterward, Chancellor Klein sent a memo to principals telling them to call 911 in emergencies. The directive at Jamaica came out after Klein issued his reminder.
As of today, Jay Dickler's name is still on the Jamaica's DOE website. The interim principal, Walter Acham, was most recently the safety administrator for the Queens Integrated Service Center. My suspicion -- and I hope I'm wrong -- is that the DOE sees Acham as a warden to shepherd Jamaica until it is restructured.
Today, on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, it is fitting that I offer a student perspective on a story relating to the relationship between American and Arab culture. Coincidentally, that story has also been the biggest education issue of the summer.
The Khalil Gibran controversy has gone from a local story to one with full on international press coverage. Outlets from CNN to BBC to Al-Jazeera have all covered the story. As a student, I believe this story has gained importance because of its depiction of the relationship between Arab and mainstream American culture and its implications for the meaning and purpose of public education in America.
The word "Madrassa" has been thrown around a lot in the media over the past year. At first it was mainly used in articles about a school that Sen. Barack Obama attended when he lived in Indonesia as a child. Although it turned out the school was actually a public school serving students of diverse cultures and religions and the teachers even dressed in Western clothing, the mainstream media still questioned whether the American people could trust a president who went to kindergarten at a school in an Muslim country.
When a similar, public, non-religious school with a focus on Arabic and Arab culture was set to open up in Park Slope, it raised just as much controversy. Even though the school was named after a Christian, led by a woman who was a strong interfaith leader and located in a very liberal neighborhood with a visible Arab community, it was attacked by a parent group, the Stop the Madrassa Coalition.
Over the summer the story has shifted to the attack on its original leader and Principal Debbie Almontaser. The New York Post began to attack Ms. Almontaser on a nearly daily basis and she was eventually forced to resign under the pressure. This is a woman who has tons of experience in public education as a teacher, is an influential leader of her community, had a son who served in the National Guard and four nephews and cousins who fought in Iraq, and even gave the Rosh HaShana Sermon at the Brooklyn Synagogue Kolot Chayeinu a few years ago! To say that this woman is a separatist extremist is a blatant lie.
In response to all this controversy, one must ask: "Why create such a school?" For that answer I must turn to my own experience as a Park Slope elementary school student at PS 321. From kindergarten through 5th Grade, I cannot recall having a class without any Muslim students. Many of them came to school wearing traditional Muslim clothing. Many of them were my friends. We would play basketball in the playground behind the school during lunch and recess. In fifth grade when we were applying to middle schools, my Muslim friends were going through an entirely different process. While I was applying to MS 51, a Park Slope middle school, the majority of them were sending off applications to Muslim private schools like Al-Noor and Medina. I have since lost contact with most of my friends who went that route.
With KGIA, it appears that Ms. Almontaser was trying to create an environment in which the large population of students like my friends could go to a public school with a normal curriculum but could obtain a deeper understanding of their culture while doing so. It would be a school attractive to students and especially their parents.
In middle school I watched an old School House Rock video: "The Great American Melting Pot." My teacher then told us about how that view was outdated, we were now supposed to look at America as a tossed salad, full of many different cultures that retained their individuality but were a still a part of the whole. KGIA is an integral part of the salad. It is bringing students from a community that is not fully integrated into mainstream American culture, and judging from the media and community controversies, is often maligned and feared in America, into a closer relationship with (you guessed it) America, without completely giving up their culture.
In a school system as diverse as New York City's, isn't a large part of its mission to add ingredients to this "tossed salad"? From the controversy over KGIA and Barack Obama's education, we see that America is not comfortable with the Muslim and Arab communities of our country or the world. Through the creation of a small Brooklyn school, which now has only 60 students, the New York City school system is helping to ease this discomfort in the same way that it did previously for America's Jewish, Russian, Latino, West Indian, African, and Asian communities. If the mass local, national and international press coverage that this story has attracted tells us anything, it is that it's important to our city, our nation, and from the looks of it, our world that Khalil Gibran International Academy succeeds. Let's hope it does. I leave you with the words of educator Maria Montessori:
Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.
Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog
The stressful kindergarten admissions process is the topic of "Getting In ... Kindergarten," a one-hour documentary airing tonight on the Learning Channel. The documentary, produced by Pamela French, follows three families through the process, revealing their anxieties while also taking a look at the negotiation process preschool directors engage in to place their students in top elementary schools. The families range in wealth and composition; one family takes long weekends in Paris; another is black and middle-class; a third mother is single and living in Harlem, where her zoned school can't be considered a fallback option.
Most of the focus is on private schools, but two of the three families also have two selective public schools, Hunter College Elementary School and the Anderson School, on their lists; one father is a Hunter grad himself. I was pleased to see that the kid with the most visible personality â€” a charming, caring child â€” ended up in public school, but I won't spoil for you which kid it is and where he started school last week.
The show itself is delicately produced and doesn't make the parents out to be crazed monsters, unlike other books and movies depicting the unique challenges of New York City parents. Instead, we see parents who simply want the best for their kids and who are able to laugh when their kid draws a gun at a play session for a prestigious private school, even though that means he's less likely to get in. It's worth a watch. And if your kids are past kindergarten age, you can watch with a sense of been-there-done-that relief â€” or schadenfreude!
"Getting In" airs at 7 p.m. today on the The Learning Channel. In New York City, that's channel 52.
Louise Crawford over at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn has school on the brain after delivering her daughter to PS 321 for 5th grade. Although she admits that she didn't read New York City 's Best Public Middle Schools on the beach over the summer, she is quickly bringing herself up to speed on middle school options and how to investigate them. She used Insideschools to generate a list of schools to look at more closely, and, on behalf of a friend, she asks her readers for more information about Brooklyn Latin, the new specialized high school in East Williamsburg.
Crawford also notes with alarm that to reserve space on middle school tours, "the time to call the schools is NOW"; a friend of hers reports being number 89 on MS 51's reservation list â€” and the school hasn't even scheduled dates yet! It's good advice to start calling schools early, but don't panic. Many schools are still getting settled in for this year and aren't yet taking calls about next year's enrollment. Insideschools will launch its annual open house database this week.
The first NYC Student Union meeting of the school year will be held on Monday at 5 p.m. at the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) offices at 50 Broadway (between Exchange and Morris), on the 2nd Floor, in Room B. (Map) If you want to learn more about the union, check out this post from last week.
A report released today by Advocates for Children takes aim at the DOE's approach to preparing special education students for life after they finish school. The report, titled "Transitioning to Nowhere: An Analysis of the Planning and Provision of Transition Services to Students with Disabilities in New York City," finds that the Individualized Education Plans of the more than 13,000 students with disabilities who leave the city's public schools every year don't always address how the students will begin to live and work independently.
AFC reviewed IEPs for more than 250 transition-age kids (transition begins at 15 and ends at 21, when kids are no longer eligible for public education) and found that 26 percent had no evidence of any transition planning at all. In addition, AFC found that students were involved in crafting their own plans only 30 percent of the time, and parents were involved only 70 percent of the time. Community organizations and outside agencies, who are required by law to be a part of the transition planning process, were used in only 4 percent of the IEPs reviewed. The DOE agrees that it needs to work on complying with IEP requirements in general.
AFC recommends that the DOE actually start planning kids' transitions when they're 15 and reevaluating the plans yearly to make sure kids are making clear progress toward measurable goals, something that often isn't done for kids in special education. The report also calls for better tracking of what students do once they leave public school and for better vocational training programs to prepare kids to work once they've transitioned out of school. Following these recommendations would make a world of difference for kids with special needs, but better tracking efforts and improved vocational offerings would also be terrific for kids in general education.