New SB 29 member vows to ease tension

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Afuwah was the second person appointed to replace the Rev. Dorothy Swaggert, who had resigned earlier in the year after Schools Chancellor Harold Levy suspended the school board. Anna Thompson, a longtime district resident, was originally elected to the school board, but less than a week after being appointed she submitted her resignation.

She said she did not want to be "maligned" by Michael Johnson, the administrator appointed by Levy to run the district, which covers Queens Village, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans and part of Jamaica.

The mild-mannered Afuwah, a supervising inspector for the New York City Fire Department, is a longtime district resident who has two sons in the Queens school system; one attends IS 59 in Springfield Gardens and the other is at Forest Hills High School.

"I never decided to run for the school board only to become a more vocal parent," Afuwah said while giving the reasons for why he wanted to join the board in the troubled school district. "But the second C-37 superintendent search committee was the straw that broke the camel's back. We worked hard on the committee, but the chancellor didn't like our choices."

He was appointed to the position by a vote of 7-0, with Kim Taylor casting the one abstention at the Oct. 19 school board meeting.

The school district has been without a superintendent since Celestine Miller was fired in February 1999 by then-Chancellor Rudy Crew for not reporting in a timely manner that a Rosedale elementary student had brought a loaded gun to school.

The superintendent recommendations by the C-37 committees have been rejected by Levy. Levy has said he wants Johnson to run the district and its 27,000 students.

He said he and many other community members joined the committee because they wanted to be involved in their children's education.

"What annoys me is that politicians, educators and the Board of Education all talk about parents becoming more involved with their children's education," he said. "Then once the parents make the move to be vocal, they are either forgotten about or not listened to. Where I come from parent involvement is essential to raising children."

Afuwah, 47, moved to the United States from Nigeria in 1974 in search of better educational opportunities. He always planned to move back to his homeland once he completed his electrical engineering degree at City College.

But things do not always follow a predetermined path, and Afuwah met the woman who would eventually become his wife. He said they met while they both were going to school at New York Technical College.

"Once our first son was born, we moved to Brooklyn and then in 1985 we bought a house in St. Albans," he said.

Afuwah started working for the Fire Department in 1988 where he inspects the electrical systems of day-care centers, schools and other buildings which need to meet fire inspection codes for a certificate of occupancy.

"Since I moved to Queens my wife and I have played a role in our children's education," Afuwah said. "I strongly believe in the public school system and now that I have gotten to know the system better, I can be more involved and more visible."

"Working on the school board allows me to better disseminate information on how to deal with the maze of the public school system," he said.

He said his primary concern was the district's children and making sure they receive a good education. But over the years, he said, he has become concerned about the rising tension between the southeast Queens community and the Board of Ed.

"We are not helping the children when we are engaged in a he-said-she-said argument," Afuwah said. "My first goal is to be a mediator between the board and 110 Livingston. I believe in the board and what they have done. I will be a team player, but we need to get the situation with the superintendent resolved."

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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