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Queens reaction lukewarm to regional school districts

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Queens’ politicians and school board members had mixed reactions to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s proposals to reform New York City public schools last week.

Most Queens officials praised the merits of the mayor’s reforms but disagreed about how they should be implemented, particularly the merging of individual school districts into larger regional administrative bodies.

During an address Jan. 15, the mayor also announced administrative changes at the Department of Education and painted an early picture of the parent boards he would like to replace the 32 community school boards scheduled to disappear in June.

Under Bloomberg’s plan, Queens would be divided into three regional districts: Districts 25, 26, 28 and 29 would be bundled together; Districts 24 and 30 would be grouped with Brooklyn’s District 32; and District 27 would be put into a group including Brooklyn Districts 19 and 23.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said the proposals show the mayor is responding to parents. He did, however, say there is a problem with the mayor’s plan because it will change how current school districts operate and their degree of independence.

“Much of what the mayor said in his speech is what people can subscribe to,” Padavan said. “If there’s any concern, it’s in the area of lumping various districts into larger networks.”

Sharon Maurer, president of School Board 26 which covers Bayside, Little Neck, Fresh Meadows and Bellerose, said she fears district programming will suffer when the consolidation of several districts into larger administrative zones takes place.

“I fear for the districts,” she said. “There needs to be parent empowerment, not engagement,” added Maurer, who has served on the board of the city’s highest performing district for 14 years.

Bloomberg plans to introduce 10 regional superintendents throughout the city to replace current superintendents, 100 local instructional supervisors to manage 10 to 12 schools each and 10 learning support centers where parents can meet with department officials.

She said a key to her district’s past success has come from a close relationship with the District 26 office. Under the new plan, she said, parents would have fewer people to contact about their children’s education.

The mayor and chancellor also announced the introduction of a uniform curriculum for all city schools.

But Maurer said a uniform curriculum ignores years of research showing children learn in different ways. She also said there needs to be a board or panel of parents that is independent of the chancellor to hold the DOE and mayor accountable.

Klein proposed creating parent engagement boards to replace the 32 boards. Their jurisdiction would mirror current school board lines and they would handle policy, zoning and budget issues in an oversight manner.

Nathaniel Washington, president of School Board 29 covering Queens Village, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens and part of Fresh Meadows, said he agreed with some elements of the mayor’s proposal but also had some reservations.

“Parts of the plans sound nice when it comes to the curriculum and accountabi­lity,” he said. “I’m not a fan of (the regional districts). That may disenfranchise parts of the city.”

Klein also called for new school-based parent coordinators, a full-time position that he said would be located at learning support centers. He plans to combine the administrative bodies overseeing elementary, middle and high school districts into one.

Arlene Fleishman, president of School Board 25, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point, Kew Gardens Hills and part of Auburndale, summed up the borough’s reaction to the mayor’s proposal.

“There are so many unanswered questions — you have the titles but you don’t have the definitions underneath,” she said. “I think a lot has been done without really considering what really did work in some districts.”

The TimesLedger staff contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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