17, No. 5
26 - Mar. 10, 2004
Parents Left Wanting After Meeting with Klein
By HEATHER HADDON
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
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
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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