Tag Archives: Panel for Education Policy

Dmytro Fedkowskyj mulling a run against Assemblymember Marge Markey


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Dominick Totino Photography

There may be a showdown in the Democratic primary race for Assembly District 30 later this year.

Middle Village resident Dmytro Fedkowskyj, a former member of the city’s Panel for Education Policy (PEP), which serves to improve the welfare of schools and students in the city, is giving a lot of thought about running against incumbent Marge Markey.

“I had many people come up to me and ask me, ‘what are you going to do now? You’ve tackled and handled that job so well, why don’t you run for office,’” Fedkowskyj said, referring to his time on the PEP.

District 30 is comprised of Maspeth, Woodside and parts of Long Island City, Middle Village, Astoria and Sunnyside.

Fedkowskyj, an accountant and father of three, was a member of the PEP for five years, since former Borough President Helen Marshall appointed him in 2008.

He advocated for Queens students and parents in the position, until he resigned on December 31, as Marshall left office.

Former colleagues say what makes Fedkowskyj special is his ability to draw people together.

A graduate of Grover Cleveland High School, Fedkowskyj is an alum of SUNY Empire State College. He started his community outreach with Community Education Council District 24 in 2004. He served as chair of the School Construction and Zoning Committee before he was appointed to the PEP. Fedkowskyj also served as a trustee for the city’s Board of Education Retirement System from 2008 to 2013.

Despite his experience, challenging Markey, who has held office since 1998, may be difficult. Markey has won at least 60 percent of votes in her last three elections against Republican opponents. But given that the area is mostly Democratic, Fedkowskyj criticized her wins.

“In an Assembly district that holds almost 2-1 Democrat over Republican voters, one has to question why she hasn’t won a general election by a larger margin,” Fedkowskyj said. “Maybe voters are just looking for change.”

Michael Armstrong, a spokesperson for Markey, said that she will run for re-election, but didn’t comment on Fedkowskyj.

Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Marge Markey

 

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Supporters rally around Bryant High School


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

Students and teachers of William Cullen Bryant High School came out in force to show they give a “hoot” about their school.

Bryant – whose mascot is an owl – is in danger of being “turned around” by the Department of Education (DOE), resulting in the closing of the school at the end of the academic year and reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012. The Turnaround model also involves the replacement of up to 50 percent of the school’s more than 200 educators, but all current students and incoming ninth graders who have applied and been matched to Bryant will have a seat in the new school.

Over 100 elected officials, faculty, students and parents attended a rally prior to a DOE public hearing at the school, located at 48-10 31st Avenue in Long Island City, on April 4 – voicing their displeasure with the city’s plan by chanting “Save our school. Keep Bryant open.”

“[Bryant] shouldn’t be saved because of its history. It should be saved because of what’s happening here today,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, an alumnus of Bryant. “You have over 3,000 kids, many of whom are the children of immigrants – 20 percent of students are English language learners and 34 percent of students are eligible for free lunches. Firing over half the teachers and opening up a new school, there’s no way that doesn’t disrupt the lives of these kids and cause a rupture that would be really difficult to heal.”

A number of teachers and students also spoke at the rally, including Bryant Student Body President Sotiria Zouroudis.

“We are like a family here, and if they fire the teachers then this family is broken. We don’t want to see that happen,” she said.

Teachers at Bryant expressed concern that the DOE is working against the school, rather than with it.

“I think this is terrible and it is demoralizing students and teachers,” said Georgia Lignou, a history teacher at Bryant. “The DOE has been undermining this school for years. They keep claiming the Turnaround is not going to be disruptive to the students, but I think it is going to be very disruptive – already it is disruptive because the students feel they’re in a school that is not good.”

Despite the outrage most have shown towards the Turnaround model, some parents believe adjustments are necessary.

“The kids can only be affected in a good way – [the Turnaround] is not affecting them in any other way,” said the parent of a Bryant freshman who preferred to remain anonymous. “The school will be here in September, the kids will come in, they will have an opportunity for 50 percent new teachers, a new way of teaching, more funding and different programs. This is a school that needs change.”

DOE Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez said the department “stands behind” current Bryant principal Namita Dwarka’s leadership and believes she is the “right person to be the proposed new leader of the proposed new school.”

Rodriguez also said the DOE is aiming to improve the educational quality at Bryant – which had a four-year graduation rate of 57 percent last year, below the citywide rate of 65 percent. Bryant also received an overall grade of “C” on its 2010-11 annual progress report, with an “F” on student performance, “D” on student progress and “B” on school environment. According to Rodriguez, Bryant was showing improvement on certain Regents Exams, and the school ranked in the top third in the city in graduating students with disabilities within four years.

“By closing W.C. Bryant and replacing it with a new school, we are seeking to rapidly create a school environment that will prepare for success in college, work and life,” Rodriguez said. “The new school will build on the strongest elements of W.C. Bryant, and it will also incorporate new elements in order to create a rigorous culture for teaching and learning.”

Bryant is on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and was receiving a significant amount of Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on an evaluation system. By instituting the Turnaround model – a program which does not require teacher evaluations – the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state. Bryant would be eligible for $1.8 million in supplemental federal funding.

Dermot Smyth, the Queens political action coordinator for the UFT, believes Mayor Michael Bloomberg should return to negotiations with the union and cease “this nonsense with these schools.”

“With all the publicity surrounding these schools, how many parents are going to want to send their kids here next year,” he said. “This has a domino effect of affecting every neighborhood in this borough in a negative way. The mayor has created a dark cloud over these schools – one of suspicion – which is unwarranted and untrue.”

Initially, 33 schools across the borough were designated for Turnaround, but the DOE recently removed seven schools from the list after discovering they had report card grades of “A” or “B.” Smyth says the city’s actions prove their plan has “no educational justification whatsoever.”

The DOE’s proposal will be voted on by the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), a committee composed of 13 members assigned by the five borough presidents and Mayor Bloomberg, on April 26.

Turnaround proposals submitted for eight Queens high schools


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


Elected officials are refusing to “turn” the other cheek on the city’s plan to overhaul a number of high schools throughout the borough.

The Department of Education (DOE) has submitted proposals to Turnaround eight high schools – Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City, Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams – resulting in the closure of the school at the end of the academic year and its reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012, along with the replacement of 50 percent of the faculty.

In total, 33 schools across the city have been designated for the Turnaround model, but each current student will be guaranteed a seat in their reopened school.

Local leaders, parents and teachers have all expressed outrage over the DOE’s plans, emphasizing the destructive influence this will have on students.

“This is a slap in the face to all of the teachers and students who have been working hard to keep [these schools] on the road towards greatness,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a graduate of Bryant High School. “I think pulling the plug is the wrong way to go. The students feel pride in their school, and if you close it, you are saying it is a failure. I think that’s the wrong message.”

Van Bramer, who called the city’s tactics “draconian,” also noted that a new principal was installed in Bryant in September, giving the leader less than a year at the school.

Other legislators have argued that politics should be left out of the classroom.

“The DOE should realize this proposal does not factor how such an extreme overhaul of Bryant and L.I.C high schools would affect attending students and how they learn,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “Children’s education should supersede political posturing.”

DOE officials said the city lost significant federal funding when an agreement on teacher evaluations could not be reached with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

By deciding to Turnaround the schools – a program which does not require teacher evaluations – the city can apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

“When we did not get an agreement with the UFT by January, we lost out on money from the state,” said DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas. “That’s one of the reasons behind this – we want to try to salvage as much of those funds as possible. We also see this as an opportunity for these schools to get better, improve their culture, improve their school program, improve their staff and become much better schools.”

The DOE’s proposal will be voted on by the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), a committee composed of 13 members assigned by the five borough presidents and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on April 26.

According to Thomas, if the Turnaround proposal is approved by PEP, the department plans to move forward regardless of funding.

“This is being done because of the mayor’s ego, and not because of any inability of the UFT to negotiate,” said Ken Achiron, the UFT chapter leader of L.I.C. “The mayor walked away from the table and refused to negotiate. I think this is a disaster for the children and school system. This mayor is doing more damage than the fiscal crisis of 1975.”

Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C. for 16 years, believes the plan has hurt students and educators alike.

“I think this will severely disrupt the students’ education,” she said. “If the goal is to improve education, this is the worst thing they can do. Teacher morale is low, and it should be clear that Bloomberg is trying to remove teachers.”