Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Norm in The Wave on Marine Park Protest

Here is the column I just wrote for The Wave, Rockaway's community newpaper, for this Friday's edition.


Protest over Hebrew Charter School at IS 278 in Marine Park

By Norman Scott

On Tuesday, May 26, 2009, the Marine Park Community mobilized massive numbers of people to an overflowing auditorium to protest at the Department of Education Public Hearing at IS 278 over the upcoming placement of the Hebrew Language Academy (HLA) charter school, funded and founded by the billionaire Michael Steinhardt (the Steinhardt Conservatory at Brooklyn Botanical Garden) in the building. His daughter Sara Berman is spearheading the school and spoke at the meeting. The Steinhardts should have stuck to gardening.

The back story is that when HLA received approval there was an absolute promise that they would find their own space. They looked and looked – they say- but couldn’t find a suitable location. One minute they were looking for 25,000 square feet of space and the next it was 50,000. One parent said he found loads of locations in about 10 minutes on the web and asked how they couldn’t find a space in two years. There was just a bit of suspicion that there was never any intention of finding a space, for which HLA would have to either buy or pay a lot of rent. Space in public schools is free for charters. A no-brainer. IS 278 with great facilities and right in Marine Park – the target all along. Few believed that HLA would only be there for the promised two years while they looked for a space. There is a tendency to demand more and more space as grades are added. Witness Eva Moskowitz’ Harlem Success Schools attempts to take over as many public school buildings as they can.

There’s more. IS 278 has been asking to turn their school into a 6-12 grade school so kids can continue the special arts programs, much of which will be taken away when HLA occupies 6-8 classrooms and 6 more rooms for administration. Suddenly, the DOE is offering a deal of sorts – or a bribe. Take HLA for two years and then get your 6-12. Most people weren’t buying it, as the arrogant and condescending patrician-looking Tweed official John White does not exactly come off as trustworthy. Numerous parents asked, “Why should we assume HLA will find a space in the next two years when they haven’t found one over the last two?”

The charter lottery was held in a YMHA on a Sunday afternoon and many in the community claimed it was not advertised widely. HLA claimed they sent out many notices. Three hundred people applied for 150 positions. HLA reps claimed there was diversity, but brought no numbers to back it up. Sara Berman raved about how there would be two teachers in a room. And low class sizes. Wow! No wonder parents, even in Marine Park where schools generally do pretty well, are tempted. But that is a part of the divisiveness of charter school, which ultimately undermine neighborhood schools. I bet no parent at IS 278 ever saw two teachers in a room. Or real low class sizes.

The Hispanic speaking principal chosen to head HLA, who speaks no Hebrew, spoke. Would you be surprised if she is a temporary figurehead who at some point in the next year will leave to spend more time with her family?

Politicians can’t resist a crowd. Anthony Weiner, Bill Thompson, State Senator Marty Goldman, local Councilman Lew Fiddler and reps of other politicians showed up to make statements “supporting” the community. Hypocrites all. The problem is putting the schools in control of the mayor and almost every one of them still supports mayoral control of the schools. Brooklyn State Senator Karl Kruger, whose rep, wearing a yarmulke no less, spoke out against placing HLA (http://hlacharterschool.org/) in IS 278 made a strong statement challenging Bloomberg’s control over the schools. Kruger, a conservative Democrat, “ vehemently opposes Senate Majority leader Malcolm Smith’s support for mayoral control” according to the Gotham Schools blog. “Kruger’s proposal eliminates the position of schools chancellor and replaces it with a commissioner of education, who the mayor would select from a list of three candidates nominated by the Panel for Educational Policy board.” Good start Carl, but the power to control education should be totally removed from the hands of politicians. That’s why the IS 278 community is in the pickle it’s in.

As one would expect, the UFT was absent. I heard people asking why and I told them the UFT couldn’t help you protest the placing of a charter school in your middle school since they had done exactly the same thing with their charter middle school in East NY at IS 166 - George Gershwin (my Alma Mata). I urged teachers to put pressure on the union.

Most speakers, while opposing placing the charter in IS 278, said they supported HLA and wished them well in finding other space. Educational historian Diane Ravitch's disagrees. She wrote an oped in the Daily News in January: He [Steinhardt] is asking taxpayers to support an institution that has obvious religious overtones. In a city with a great variety of Jewish schools and other agencies that encourage Jewish identity, it makes no sense to create a public school with the same purpose. If the goal of the Hebrew Language Charter School is to strengthen the religious identity of Russian and Israeli Jews, then it should be a private school. If the goal is to teach Hebrew to a broad variety of students, then the Regents should encourage the teaching of Hebrew in the regular public schools.

If the IS 278 community succeeds in keeping HLA out and the DOE shoves HLA into another public school with a less activist, the IS 278 community doesn’t seem to think there would be anything wrong with that. I spoke at the meeting representing the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM). I told them they were not alone, as the DOE is attacking its own public schools (don’t they run them) and favoring charters. I said I was against the very idea of charter schools that funnel public money into the hands of private interests. The much trumpeted “school choice” is juts a marketing concept to undermine neighborhood schools and privatize them. I spoke directly to the few HLA supporters sitting in the front row with big white “I Support HLA” buttons.

“If you wanted a dual language Hebrew school, why didn’t you approach the mayor and ask for one to be established as part of a public school? After all, there are many dual language public schools in existence. The mayor has dictatorial control of the schools you probably could have accomplished it. Or why not just open a private school? But you want to jump onto the charter school gravy train and grab public funds for your own private use.”

Michael Steinhardt lost millions in the Bernie Madoff scheme. He seems to have come up with a nice one of his own. Learning from the master.

21 comments:

  1. The bottom line is this, IS 278 applied to the DOE and their request was turned down. Who is going to benefit if the charter school is not housed in IS 278? They are still not going to have their high school. The bottom line we all know is political. If they wanted it to happen, then it would. Does it make sense to hinder the education of children because you cannot have what you want? That is not only selfish, but it is childish. I was appauled at the way these grown individuals behaved last night at this demonstration. Comments being made about who's winning and who's losing, people encouraging others to turn their backs when the HLA speakers were up to speak. They acted worse than my small children and as a member of the community, there is no way in this world that I would ever support behavior like that over the educational instruction of children. GROW UP PEOPLE!

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  2. I am in agreement with you Anonymous, the demonstration was out of control. I was a speaker there in support of the Hebrew Language Academy and I want to mention a couple of things. First of all, people shouted that they had not received any advertisements about the Charter School.....well, I reside in the community as well and I received the mailing. My first instinct was to toss it as junk mail without reading it, but for some reason, I decided to open it. My guess is that alot of folks probably did indeed toss the letter as I was going to do, which is why they did not know about the school. Second, the writer of this article made a statement above that "HLA reps claimed there was diversity, but brought no numbers to back it up." I am here to tell you as proof, I attended the open house, as well as the lottery and there were people of various nationalities at both venues. I myself am an American, however, I am from a Caribbean background and I am a supporter of the HLA school and a supporter of it being housed in IS 278. Growing up in the 1980's, I went to High School in the area and I was the only African American in an Italian class. Various people, sometimes even teachers, would look in the window at me and the expression on their faces would read "what is she doing in there", yet I did not let that stop me. Though the class was "different" than what everyone else in my caliber was taking, I excelled in the class to the point where I was the top student and that is exactly what I want for my children. For them to be different than the others and for them to excel in what they do. This is why I am here to support the HLA school and no selfish desire should be allowed to prohibit the advancement of education for any individual!

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  3. I see we meet again, though I identify myself and you remain anonymous.

    Again, no one is being deprived of a quality education. These 150 District 22 children have seats waiting for them in our fine local schools which will be deprived of the funds that travel with them when they are diverted to HLA. If anyone is shortchanged here, it will be the local schools and the I.S. 278 kids. The HLA students are not entitled to an education at those kids' expense.

    No one was more offensive at that meeting than those who spoke for HLA and first suggested their house may be burned down and then that we needed to "look in our hearts" for the "real" reason we oppose this charter school's placement. It's about time HLA takes responsibility for its own mistakes and corrects them at their own expense.

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  4. I must've been attending a different meeting than Anonymous.

    But I think I was at the same meeting as LQuinlan (whose comments I have agreed with for the most part here and on other sites)

    Calling for "tolerance" at the beginning of the meeting and "open minds" - that in and of itself was insulting and degrading to the community... basically, you pre-judged the crowd before one word was uttered.

    That's pretty much the definition of prejudice, isn't it?

    For a moment, forget that the process has been less than transparent. Forget that the community was ill-informed then and now. Forget about mayoral control and all of the political buzz words and nonsense. Forget the pre-judgments and all that junk. Think of those young children and ask yourself - What responsible parent would want his/her child coming into a temporary atmosphere like this?

    It's an atmosphere where (1) you don't know what will happen in the next two years, where (2) facilities are taken from other students and they are now deprived of educational resources, where (3) these youngsters have to share space in a building made for and filled with children NINE YEARS their senior who see them as interlopers. And just to emphasize, this is all happening in their formative years - where many of them are first leaving mom and dad for school?

    To me, it not only sounds like a raw deal for those youngsters enrolled in IS 278, but it's a substandard situation for those young impressionable children in the HLA. I wouldn't subject a child to those conditons, and I think those who do are not acting in the child's best interests.

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  5. Well said, Gene. Those of us concerned with the safety and well-being of the HLA schools were told to mind our own business by John white.

    Maria, you support placing the charter school within I.S. 278 for what reason exactly? Because the administration of your school did not fulfill their obligation to find a suitable space? For this reason you expect 1100 students to suffer the consequences and have to wait at the very least two years for a school that is sorely needed right now. Your students have plenty of other options, ours do not.

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  6. I do not understand why you need this school when the education in District 22 is above and beyond most private school educations. My children have been attending neighborhood schools since PreK and have thrived. They have friends from all different cultures and learn from one another. Why would you want to force segregation? We do not oppose the charter school, however, we appaul the thought of our kids losing the programs that they love so much and lose the right to go to the neighborhood school because there will not be room for them due to the housing of HLA. Stop being ignorant you are pawns in the political game just like us.

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  7. Norm,

    You did a wonderful job exposing these deformers. I saw part of this prostest on Channel 5 at 10:00 PM. Tuesday night.

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  8. Maria

    I claimed there were no numbers on the diversity and you still don't provide any figures other than to say:
    "I attended the open house, as well as the lottery and there were people of various nationalities at both venues."
    What does this mean? If 150 kids got in then why couldn't they give us a breakdown on the diversity? What's so hard? To me the inability to do so is a sign there was not as much diversity as claimed. As a parent why don't you ask and report back to us?

    When you say, "no selfish desire should be allowed to prohibit the advancement of education for any individual!" I am curious as to how your child is being denied educational advancement in the free choice public schools? You mean there is no school in the area that makes you happy?

    But let's take this to the next step. Your child at HLA will get services like 2 teachers in a room and smaller class sizes, probably the utmost in technology, etc. Services that kids at IS 178 and other public schools are not getting. But guess what? We are paying for the services you are getting from the public trough. Why should those public resources go to HLA and not to IS 278? That decision is made by a dictatorship of BloomKlein and not in any way subject to oversight by a board of education.

    HLA could have been opened as private school and who would complain?

    But they chose a way to take control of public money and put it under private management.

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  9. While it appears that the HLA wants the parents of IS 278 students to look into their hearts, perhaps it is they who need to do some soul searching. Why ruin a culture that already exists and was built by the children at 278? As for your children, you need to find them their own house and help them to make it a home. We all know that stability is a key for success. Don't we want stability for all our children?

    FYI- Temple Beth Shalom on Avenue X between E 27 & E 28 St houses a K-8 school that will no longer need their building this fall. It seems the "house" that they built should be ready for them to move into. Maybe it's worth investigating.
    Congregation Beth Shalom-Kings
    2710 Avenue X
    Brooklyn, NY 11235
    (718) 891-4500‎

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  10. Don't you get it? That may not be free as IS 278 is. Why pay when you don't have to?

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  11. AS TAKEN FROM LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE-
    Over the past three years, Berman has tried to create a home away from home for these young Jewish urban nomads. Berman is the chairwoman of Makor, a Jewish cultural center... aimed at Jews in their 20s and 30s. It's located in a refurbished, 100-year-old Upper West Side townhouse that houses performance spaces... About 2,000 people pass through the building each week.Berman sees Makor as more than just a place to find intellectual enrichment, culture and maybe, with a little luck, a date. “A lot of people are searching for meaning, for a career, looking for a spouse,” says Berman. “They're looking, and Makor is really about exploring in a safe space.” The programs are open to everyone, but Makor specifically targets unaffiliated Jews who don't feel a strong spiritual connection to their religion. When a typical 25-year-old in the city thinks about Judaism, says Berman, they immediately picture Hebrew school classes in dank synagogue basements. Through innovative programming, Makor creates an environment that will foster a different connection. It's not an easy task. Young New Yorkers are a sophisticated audience and the culturally overflowing city provides unlimited competition for their attentions. “You really need to work hard to create a different atmosphere,” reveals Berman.Fortunately for Berman, Jewish programming success runs in her genes. If there were a first daughter of organized American Judaism, it would be Berman. Her father is prominent philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, who has launched several well-known initiatives aimed at young, disengaged Jews. Possibly the most well-known is birthright israel, a $210-million project that underwrites trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. In 1999, Steinhardt launched Makor as part of his Jewish Life Network. Two years later, he gave the program to the 92nd Street Y. The contribution, valued at $16 million, was the largest-ever awarded to the Y by an individual. Steinhardt asked Berman to chair the jointly run board. “One of the goals of the first year was taking the emphasis off my dad,” says Berman, explaining that a lot of donors supported Makor because they knew it mattered to Steinhardt. Over the past three years, she says, there's been a shift over to the Y as Makor's grown more self-sustaining. “People now want to support it because of what Makor stands for,” she concludes with a note of satisfaction in her voice.
    But the merging of Makor's start-up culture with the Y's well-established bureaucracy hasn't always been easy. “There were the expected culture clashes,” says Berman. As chairwoman, Berman bridges the gap between the two organizations. She ensures that Makor meets its budget without sacrificing quality. “Having financial stability doesn't take anything away from the program's creativity,” she offers. “There's a positive tension between the two, but it's doable to have both.”
    Of course, without funding, there's no budget to balance. Another important part of Berman's work is fundraising, a tricky job, she adds, “because the people who often come to Makor are people who would never be able to support Makor.” As a result, Berman reaches out to older audiences. “You have to make an appeal to a 60-year-old person who is concerned for a Jewish 25-year-old in New York City for the first time,” she says. To get at this demographic, she organizes events that connect the generations. She runs an annual mother/daughter jazz luncheon that raises about $100,000. With a quick smile, Berman says that her fundraiser is the “anti-New York women's lunch,” explaining that unlike many charity luncheons in the city, this is a low-key, friendly affair. This year, Makor held its first poker night, aimed at men. The men matched the women's contributions, netting an additional $100,000.
    See the whole article at
    www.lifestylesmagazine.com/website/past/stories/196/Lifestyle_02-2005_005.html - 11k -

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  12. In answer to your question, I love my community and given the fact that HLA needs a TEMPORARY location, I think IS 278 is a good pick for the charter school to start. 1-It is near my home, 2-it is near the park, 3-the neighborhood is great. Why would I think of having my kids go anywhere else? Would you?

    My understanding of this matter is that the temporary space is available at IS 278 to house the students of HLA, not that they would be displacing any of the current students that are currently attending. When we attended the HLA open house, we were advised that they were in search of real estate to house the school, however, it would not be constructed in time for the start of the school year and they would provide temporary housing for 2 years. I do not have a problem with that. I'm sure by then they would have to leave your school due to the number of students which will more than likely increase.

    Regarding the diversity issue, I don't need to ask HLA to show me numbers, I was there. I was there as the names were called and I was there as the parents rejoiced for their children's acceptance. Blacks, whites, russians, jews, asian, there were a host of individuals there.

    In answer to your question about the schools in the area that make me happy - sure there are very good schools in the area, however, I don't want very good for my children, I want exposure to the best opportunity possible and wherever I see that opportunity, I shall follow. I am also a taxpayer as yourself, so I am more than happy to see my taxpayer dollars going towards this movement. Anyhow you cut this, I can relate. I have children in public school and a nephew in a school sharing space with a charter school. From what I have seen, they do not have any type of interaction with the JHS students. They have separate entrances and exits, they have their own security staff and they utilize facilities such as the gym/lunch room separately from the older students.

    Look-I am not here to fight you all on this issue. We all live in and love this community and we need to unite as one. There are more important issues going on in the world. Like I said last night, I am all for the educational instruction of children, yours as well as mine. So unless there is concrete proof (not speculation) that the DOE is going to grant your wish for a H.S. within these next two years or proof that your school is going to lose their programs, I don't see the harm in leasing the space as the funds could assist your school in other areas if need be.

    On that note, I'd like to bid you all a good night and wish for the best for all of our children.

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  13. Maria,
    One of the things you are missing is the horrible record of lies and deception by the DOE over the last 7 years. It is clear they lied about this situation and in fact many people believe there is no intention of HLA ever leaving IS 278. Many of the facts exposed at the meeting demonstrated that there is some level of deception in the search for space.

    My point is that they are now getting space for free and that will not be easy for them to give up.

    Further, the DOE is using the drop in population at IS 278 as a trend and will change their plan when the time comes to leave.

    And the suspician is somewhat confirmed by your staisfaction with being near the park. That the search for space was bogus all along and IS 278 was the target.

    Would HLA accept a place on say Flatbush Ave? Or Nostrand? I'm betting HLA will never want to leave. No one trusts the DOE.

    Another factor is that in every school a charter has been placed, the charter gets favored treatment - as to building use, the times they eat lunch, etc.

    Also lower class sizes, no ELA students, no special ed, etc. It is like creating 2 separate school systems.

    On demographics - I know what you saw, but why are they witholding the numbers? Just get them to tell us.

    Here is the level of suspician people have about these charter operaters. They would skew the first year demographics and then shift them in later years to their real intentions after things quiet down. The Steinhardt commitment over the years is to Jewish education as pointed out in the comment above. They are not putting all this effort in without having an agenda. And I say this as a Jew myself.

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  14. I currently work for the NYC BOE and sorry to say, Joel Klein the Chancellor makes all the decisions in where the Charter schools are going to be combined with other Public schools, so though I understand your plight, it’s not really up to the parents to decide anything, they can protest all they want but he has the last say in that situation.

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  15. RM-
    We are well aware of whose say we're waiting for- the puppet of Mayor Bloomberg, the dictator whose close personal relationship with Michael Steinhardt has conflict of interest written all over it. We're not going away quietly as hoped. If we're going down, we're going down loud.

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  16. Maria-
    Yes, we want want our school in our lovely community and we made that choice when we sent our kids there. You signed on for a school with no building- go find one.

    Common sense shows (as well as the figures compiled by members of the PA)that accomodations will have to be made that will skew in favor of the younger children. My child should not be made to feel like an outsider in his own school. In two years, if no space is found, the DOE will not be moving your kids- they'll move ours to a middle school that has room for your kids right now, claiming it makes sense.

    The charter school will not pay its way. It will be using 278 facilities and utilities that it won't be paying for. No wonder they have money for two teachers in each classroom.

    We're both saying the same thing- we want the best for our own children but, for some reason, you and the HLA seem to think yours matter more than ours do.

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  17. Maria,

    Why are you so interested in this building? Is it really your kids? Or did the DOE promise you a job in the school as a parent coordinator? Go find another school for your children.

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  18. I find amazing that its the working class people who get screwed again. Mr Steinhardt who was a hedge fund manager that made millions if not billions of dollars has pulled off his own Madoff scam on us the taxpayers, if this man has made all these millions for his hedge fund and himself why does he need taxpayers money to support this HLA charter school. There are plenty of building out there that would more than suitable for this school, especially with this housing down turn we are in the midst of, but I guess anything that they can get for free compliments of the taxpayer they do, what's next the Park . That is why the rich stay rich, I wonder how much money Mr Steinhardt contributed to Bloombergs campaign to get this nice plum for free. I also was at that meeting the other night and I thought the people behaved fine, the one thing that I would like to see is that all the people who showed up in support of HLA and have kids going to this school, if their kids are really going or where they paid to show up. I have more to say but I am getting frustrated knowing that regardless of what I have to say the decision has already been made. The middle class get screwed again.

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  19. Happy to hear that HLA is withdrawing its request for a charter school at IS 278 This is Great news the middle class Marine Park neighborhood finally wins one for the community and the kids. # cheers for all that showed up at the meetings and showed their support. Great Job everyone.

    PS I was wrong the decision was not made. Glad to be wrong on this one.

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  20. Raymond
    The decision was made. Klein would have ruled in their favor. The rally scared the HLA people off. They saw that they would have been so unslecome that the experience would be awful. Give them credit for common sense.

    Now look to see Klein's retaliation, Not the firsy time a school fought off a charter and was attacked. If I were you guys I would keep the pressure up for the high school.

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  21. First off, HLA will now be leasing their space, most likely from the Diocese of Brooklyn, so no other public school will have to fight. This is what they should have been doing from the beginning but they no doubt preferred the free ride they were getting from the DOE.

    Secondly, I don't know what anonymous was implying about why this campaign was so successful. I tend to think it was the outpouring of the community: Nearly 1000 people attended the hearing, thousands of calls were received by 311 and over 6000 signatures were collected on petitions from the community. Show me another school that put forth that kind of effort and maybe then you can compare the outcome. I think we succeeded because it was a well thought out, well-executed plan and believe me when I tell you, more was planned for the future.

    HLA was wise to make the decision that they did. I wish them luck even though I do not believe in their mission. I hope Klein and the DOE will recognize that this community deserves a voice in the future of 278 and that we'll never have to deal with that smug, condescending John White ever again.

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