Vol. 17, No. 5  Feb. 26  - Mar. 10, 2004


Parents Left Wanting After Meeting with Klein


Roughly 1,500 parents and advocates jammed a city education forum with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein earlier this month at Lehman High School in the east Bronx, but many local parents who made the trek were left wanting. 

"You have parents who are frustrated and they need answers," said Louise Fickens, the parent coordinator for the Discovery mini-high school at Walton. "And some come for information."

Parents who spoke with the Norwood News came for a combination of both, and had mixed reviews of the session. "It's important to attend the meetings . . . but it was so overcrowded," said Maria Alvarez, a PS 54 parent. 

Jack Marth, a Bronx New School parent, put it another way. "It was chaotic," he said. "They didn't plan for the number who showed up."

Parents were instructed to write their questions down on cards for the chancellor to answer during the Parent and Community Engagement Meeting, as it is formally known (one was held in each borough). But with roughly 40 minutes allotted for the question period, none of the parents interviewed had their cards read. "The parents wanted to hear more," said Jenny Marte, the parent coordinator at PS 8. 

Many of the questions that were covered did resonate among local parents, such as overcrowding and new school construction. "I'm all for small schools," said Fickens, whose son also attends Discovery. "You're talking 'Children First', but if it's not in a smaller setting, [the children] are not getting the attention they deserve."

The 2005 capital plan for schools is the city's answer to overcrowding. The $13.1 million package would include 11 new school construction projects for local District 10 (now part of the larger Region 1). But with over half of the money slated to come from Albany --  through a lawsuit to provide more equitable funding to city schools --  those projects are still far from reality.

"It's a goal," said Fickens about the new construction. "Like any other goal you have to work up to it."

Another topic discussed extensively at the meeting --  safety --  was also of interest to Fickens and other high school parents. In addition to the guards already deployed, many parents asked for more security in the schools. According to parents, Klein spoke about the city's efforts to open five suspension centers for violent children, and to create more if they succeed.

"Imagine putting all the aggressive students in one building," Alvarez said. "That's a disaster."

Alvarez, who has children ranging in age from 8 to 21, did find the Engagement Meeting helpful in getting information for a range of grades. Many of the parent coordinators, who were strongly encouraged to attend, went to gather information to share with other parents.

But Marth didn't consider the trek worthwhile to listen to other concerns when his top issue --  testing --  wasn't discussed. "I feel that the high-stakes mania is getting out of hand ... and I was hoping for a more substantive discussion of that," he said. Alvarez wanted information about special education and bilingual policies.

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