Weigh In on Armory Battle
BY HANNAN ADELY
Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has no opinion on whether or not there should be new schools built in the Kingsbridge Armory. Levy was asked about the armory at a Nov. 20 forum sponsored by the Independent Press Association, a new network of ethnic and community newspapers. About 20 editors and reporters also listened to Levy discuss his views on bilingual education, standards for teachers, and parental involvement.
Levy said he did not know enough to take a position on the armory, which Mayor Giuliani plans to convert into a shopping and recreation center. Many parents in the community argue the space should be used to alleviate District 10's severe overcrowding, and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition has drafted a proposal that calls for three schools in the landmark facility. That plan has been endorsed by teachers' union president Randi Weingarten and Congressman Eliot Engel.
"Is a school in the Kingsbridge Armory or multiple schools in the Kingsbridge Armory the best use for that facility?" Levy asked. "I don't know ... What's better for the community in the long haul? I'll let someone else decide."
Parent activists say Levy has kept himself in the dark on purpose. "We tried to get him to see our presentation and he rushed out," said Norwood parent Ronn Jordan who is active with the coalition. "He said he wasn't going to get into an argument with the mayor over the armory."
Although District 10 is among the three most overcrowded districts in the city, Levy said the area may not have the greatest need for new schools.
"There's staff within the board who can give an answer to the question, 'Where do we need it most?'" Levy said. "... I don't know that's particularly the Kingsbridge Armory and I can find other places in the city that are a lot more crowded."
Jordan said the vacant armory presented an opportunity too good to pass up. "There's overcrowding in a lot of districts, but where are we going to have the opportunity to build schools without having to pay land acquisition fees?" Jordan said. "This is city-owned and city-managed property."
Overcrowding is also a severe problem at John F. Kennedy High School in Riverdale, which serves many Norwood residents and has an enrollment of 4,200 students. Asked by a reporter about the school, Levy said he didn't know if the central Board was considering dividing the school to create smaller educational environments.
"Should Kennedy be carved up?" Levy said. "I don't know. Do small schools work better than large schools? I think it's an interesting question and there I think the jury's out."
On another Bronx issue, Levy was asked why he did not support a proposal from the Parent Action Committee, an education advocacy group in District 9 which proposed a four-point plan to improve local schools. Levy, who said he had met with the group and was impressed with their presentation, responded, "They've got a superintendent, they've got a local board. That's who they're gonna have to work with, not me."
Asked his views on bilingual education, Levy spoke at length about what kind of programs existed for English language learners, but revealed no preferences. He suggested school officials should advise parents about their child's options, and stated that the 1.1 million children in the school system "should be treated as individuals" in the area of bilingual education.
He added, "We need to ensure there's no dysfunctionality between what the community wishes and what the program is that is being offered."
Levy emphasized teacher quality and experience as the key to improving schools. Citing studies of the city school system, he said a three percent increase in the number of certified teachers correlates to a 10 percent increase in how well kids do on exams.
"If you have a new teacher, they're not going to teach as well, period," he said.
Levy argued that New York City should be attracting and recruiting teachers from top universities like Stanford and Cornell because of the strength of the city's educational leaders and its innovation in developing new programs.
Chancellor Harold Levy in his Own Words on the Armory and JFK High
On building schools in the Kingsbridge Armory...
I'm not going to take a particular view on the Kingsbridge Armory. I don't know enough about it ... There are pros and there are cons. If you ask the question, "Do we need more schools in that neighborhood?" the answer is yes. Is a school in the Kingsbridge Armory or multiple schools in the Kingsbridge Armory the best use for that facility? I don't know. You can make arguments either way ... You can say, "Let's turn this into the hub of the business sector or let's put schools there." What's better for the community in the long haul? I'll let someone else decide. It is not obvious to me that schools should be excluded from it if it does get built...
The power that I have over this, just mechanically, is I get to propose ... a capital plan to the Board of Education ... There's staff within the board who can give an answer to the question, "Where do we need it most?", and that's where I would put it. And I don't know that's particularly the Kingsbridge Armory, and I can find other places in the city that are a lot more crowded. But each borough gets a share and where within a particular borough is as much a political decision as it is a question of expertise. I don't know if it serves any purpose for me to be drawing on the question of, this is the area where I would put the conditional school. I've shied away from it because I don't think my voice is going to change the result, and so I'm reluctant to be drawn in on it.
On whether there are any discussions at the Central Board about reorganizing Kennedy High School which has 4,200 students...
I'm not going to comment on the individual school. There may well be conversations but not with me, but that doesn't mean anything. There are enough people worrying about high schools that I wouldn't necessarily hear of it. The small schools movement has taken hold in this city ... It is not clear to me the extent to which that has been a particularly successful answer. In some instances it has been very successful but it does seem to be [simply a function] of, do you have a charismatic leader, do you have the magnet kind of program that makes it work, is there a special orientation where the parents buy in? And, to some degree, it's the Hawthorne effect. If you're special, you feel like you're special, you act like you're special, and therefore you are special. Should Kennedy be carved up? I don't know. Do small schools work better than large schools? I think it's an interesting question and I think there the jury's out. Sometimes yes. I realize as I'm saying this I sound awfully like the politician, but the reality is I really do think these things are nuanced. I don't think there is an answer. If I thought there was an answer, I'd give it.
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