17, No. 22
4 - 17, 2004
The New Education Council
District 'Woefully' Short of Seats; Food Supplies Lacking
By HEATHER HADDON
Rampant school overcrowding and insufficient cafeteria food were the focus of a recent meeting of the District 10 Community Education Council, which replaced the old school boards this fall. Members drilled regional representative Joel DiBartolomeo on school and district-wide issues during the business portion of the Oct. 21 meeting, held in the beautiful new library of North Fordham’s PS 46.
DiBartolomeo offered few concrete answers, especially on the district’s overcrowding epidemic. “We’re just woefully short [of space],” said DiBartolomeo, a local instructional supervisor for the newly created Region 1, comprised of Districts 10 and 9.
DiBartolomeo put the district’s shortage at 4,000 seats this year, with the crunch especially concentrated in high schools. “Sadly, what has become a norm is a crowded school,” he said.
DiBartolomeo predicted that the space squeeze will continue for years unless the Department of Education (DOE) finds new space to house schools. DOE is currently focusing on finagling room within existing buildings to establish small high schools of around 400 students.
While hoping to construct new schools, DOE is having little luck locally. DiBartolomeo asked Council members for input on untapped areas, but was dismissive of most of their suggestions. “We have picked over all the available real estate,” he said.
The DOE is eyeing schoolyards as another target for construction, according to DiBartolomeo, but most local schools already house a transportable structure in their play areas.
DiBartolomeo also mentioned several times DOE’s intent to establish more charter schools within pre-existing buildings. “It’s a new paradigm shift,” he said.
Food shortage cited
Confirming reports citywide, many local school cafeterias received insufficient food supplies this year after a change in vendors. Maria Torres, a Council vice president, found that school kitchens were disorganized and not fully stocked.
“We don’t want students to go all day without eating,” she said.
Three new vendors were selected in August, but the one serving Manhattan and the Bronx — Driscoll Foods of New Jersey — has long-standing credit problems, according to a
New York Post report.
Members also reported that cafeteria menus were more limited this year. Torres said that some schools served tuna fish repeatedly, and many relied heavily on sandwiches. “They get choices but not good choices,” Torres said.
DOE officials acknowledged the problems and agreed to double the number of its vendors. “I can’t think of a principal who would want the situation like you are describing,” DiBartolomeo said.
Traffic safety update
While the 52nd Precinct is trying to rectify the situation, four district schools still have no crossing guard and several need more, according to Stephanie Pierce, a CEC member.
The precinct steered guards to several areas this fall, including Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse, and stepped up police surveillance during school arrival and dismissal times, according to Pierce.
“They’re calling in [manpower] from other precincts,” she said.
But many schools still need more staffing. A PS 8 student darting between parked cars was almost hit two weeks ago, according to Pierce. CEC Member Nicole Jackson also complained about traffic safety around PS 94.
Math scores improve
This year’s state math scores made huge improvements locally and citywide, especially for elementary students. Over 60 percent of District 10 fourth graders passed the tests in 2004, up by over 25 percentage points from scores in 1999 — the fifth biggest five-year improvement citywide. “It’s fantastic,” DiBartolomeo said.
PS 280, 291, 315, 340 and PS/MS 15 all made double-digit gains in their Level 3 and Level 4 rates, which constitute passing, and nearly 50 percent of fourth graders passed in most schools.
Patricia Britton, a PS/MS 95 parent from Sedgwick Avenue, says she’s seen her principal put more emphasis on test preparation, and it has yielded results. “My daughter got a [Level] 4 this year,” she said.
As usual, middle school scores lagged behind. About 30 percent of district eighth graders passed the tests, up by almost 17 percentage points since 1999, but still far below the elementary levels. While a mixed bag locally, over half of PS/MS 15, 95, 315 and Jonas Bronck students passed the tests, and several schools made big improvements.
DiBartolomeo said that DOE is putting extra emphasis on creating goals for Level 1 students. “The chancellor’s office e-mails me with individual students’ names specifically to make sure they’ve [made improvement plans],” he said.
DOE has begun Saturday academies for students in danger of not passing fifth grade due to their test scores. The sessions will focus on math and reading test preparation.
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