School Official Gets Assignments from Students
By PATRICK BUTLER
Students usually have to leave most of the decision making about education policy to adults. But that doesn't mean they can't make their voices heard.
That's a lesson quickly being learned by Sistas and Brothas United (SBU), a youth group affiliated with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. Concerned about the state of their schools, the group of teenagers invited Deputy Schools Chancellor David Klasfeld to meet with them earlier this month in the parish center of Our Lady of Refuge Church in Fordham Bedford.
A prime gripe of the students is that they are being asked to perform at a higher level, while the school system fails to provide the proper tools and facilities. SBU was meeting with Klasfeld in order to address the numerous problems in the local schools. According to SBU member Heather Colon, "It's hard to meet the same standards when students are not receiving enough resources."
SBU told Klasfeld of the numerous problems confronting local schools, everything from broken fire alarms and perennial scaffolding to a lack of books and overcrowded classrooms.
Jacqueline Gonzalez said that PS 246's library, which only occupies a small part of a classroom "is not actually a library. Only a few books are in it."
Louis Pacheco, a Walton High School student, said that "the PA system and fire alarm malfunctioned at the same time." He also said that the indoor pool, long out of service, should be repaired.
Local parent Ginette Sosa, who has children in District 10, asked that the board provide "an accurate report on repairs needed in District 10." For too long, she said, "scaffolding has imprisoned our children."
Another student said that District 10 should receive priority in the allocation of Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (known as QZABs), a federal program that provides interest-free bonds to municipalities for use in rehabbing old buildings for school use. The Coalition has proposed that the city use its share on renovating the Kingsbridge Armory to include three schools.
Ronn Jordan, another local parent, complained that 23 new schools were being built in Queens while only one is going up in the Bronx. "We have to provide some much needed seats for District 10," he said.
Students then presented Klasfeld with a mock wrestling belt and asked him if he would be District 10's "Board of Ed Champion." Smiling, Klasfeld took the belt, and appeared somewhat surprised by the proposition.
Klasfeld answered each charge, beginning with PS 246. "We have a special and ongoing library project, and I will see if I can include 246 in it." Being the adviser for athletics in the schools, Klasfeld said that "some upgrading of facilities would take place at Walton," and mentioned a new program, run by a not-for-profit called Take the Field, that raises money to refurbish high school ball fields. "Fifty-two high schools throughout the city will be having repairs done to their playing fields," he said.
In response to the QZAB issue, Klasfeld said, "We are going to use that money to bring computers and Internet access to all our schools." (In a recent meeting with the coalition, an aide to mayoral candidate Mark Green suggested that the politics on the Board of Education makes it impossible to spend the money in a single borough.)
Regarding school repairs and new school construction, Klasfeld said that even projects in the current five-year plan might be postponed, especially considering a more than $2 billion budget shortfall discovered over the summer.
SBU then put up a scorecard and systematically went through each of their demands. Wherever they felt that Klasfeld had not given them a positive answer, they wrote "no," and "yes" where he had. Klasfeld had more no's than yes's. But he said that he would give attention to each proposal. "All the things I said I would look at will be done within a month," he promised. How'd the students get Klasfeld to make the long trip from 110 Livingston Street to the northwest Bronx? "It took a lot of calling, basically harassment," said Riquelmi Gomez. "We wanted to meet with [Chancellor Harold] Levy, but he has such a busy schedule. We settled for Klasfeld, because he is Levy's right hand man." She hopes that, in the near future, SBU will be able to meet with the city's next mayor. "Hopefully, the new mayor will meet with us and tell us his views on the armory."
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