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School Board 29 member Alam resigns after 6 years

Morshed Alam, an influential member of Community School Board 29 for the past 6 1/2 years, officially resigned at a school board meeting last Thursday and delivered an emotional speech punctuated by a moving request: “Please help our children.”

“I’m very sad today because this is my last public meeting,” Alam said after telling school officials and parents about his decision to step down at the meeting in PS 52 in Springfield Gardens.

The political maverick and dedicated community activist cited family duties and the impending dissolution of school boards as the reasons for his resignation.

Alam, a native of Bangladesh and a chemist for the city Department of Environmental Protection, lives in Jamaica Estates with his wife, Saleha, and their three children: Nusrat, 18, Shaharin, 16, and Israt, 13. He was the first Bangladeshi elected to a public office in the city.

“My daughters are out of middle school and elementary school. They are going to high school and college, and I think I should give them more time,” he said.

“The second reason,” Alam added, “is the school board won’t be in effect after June 30, 2003. Already people have lost their interest, and the community also is losing interest. We don’t know in what form it might be coming back. Being that I’m not a parent in this district anymore, I don’t think I should stay on the school board.”

Michael Johnson, School Board 29 superintendent, said the most telling reflection of Alam’s tenure resides with the activist’s children.

Nusrat Alam, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, works as a part-time assistant to City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). Shaharin Alam, a junior at Bronx High School for (or of???) Science, plans to become a dentist. Israt Alam began her freshman year at Townsend Harris High in Flushing last month.

“Alam was a model with his own kids. They were excellent students,” Johnson said, adding, “I found him very helpful when I was trying to do programs in diversity and reaching out to the Bangladeshi community, the Pakistani community, the Muslim community ... He was just a model board person.”

A member of the American Muslim Alliance and the founder of several political organizations in the borough — including the New Americans Democratic Club — Alam has generated support for a coalition of multi-ethnic representatives to work toward the common goal of prosperity. Last fall he was named chairman of the New Americans Committee of the Democratic Party of Queens County.

In 2000, Alam traveled with President Clinton to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In 1997, he received the Empire State Award for Community Service from Gov. George Pataki — one of many honors bestowed upon him in the past several years.

A graduate of the University of Dhaka with a master’s degree in chemistry, Alam emigrated to the United States with his wife in 1984. In his first run for elected office, in 1996, Alam received more votes than any other school board candidate in the borough. Two years later, he gave state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) the toughest race of the veteran politician’s career, winning about 42 percent of the vote.

“People were very supportive of me. They voted for me, and that’s really amazing,” Alam said. “I tried my best to help the children, the kids in the community, and tried to bring the community together.”

Alam said his toughest challenge arose three years ago with the arrival of Johnson, who took over on an interim basis after former District 29 Superintendent Celestine Miller was arrested and charged with fraud in connection with stolen funds laundered through computer purchases.

“Nobody was supporting Michael Johnson,” Alam said. “But I was supporting him from day one, and he’s the superintendent now. The change took place. Behind this, I put in a lot of work.”

Johnson credited Alam for taking a stand regardless of the outcome.

“He’s been supportive of me, and he paid a heavy price for it,” Johnson said. “He’s a very principled person ... I just think it was very tough on him, but he wanted what was best for the children. That was a tough position to take early.”

Alam said his biggest frustration revolved around lack of parental involvement in public education. But he cited his greatest achievement as the results of his active role in the schooling of his three daughters.

“I think I helped as an example to a lot of people that if we get involved as parents, we can make a difference for our children and other children,” Alam said. “My three children all went to top schools in the city because of my involvement in their lives. So I think that was one of the biggest differences I brought to the board.”

School Board 29 is currently accepting applications to fill Alam’s vacant seat. Applicants must have lived

in the city for at least 90 days prior to the appointment. They also must either be a registered voter or the parent of a child attending a school within the district. The deadline for applications is Nov. 4. For more information, call executive assistant Carlene Thorbs at 978-5961.

Reach reporter Joe Whalen by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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