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SD 29 annual parade celebrates diversity

The march, along Merrick Boulevard from IS 59 in Springfield Gardens to PS 270 in Laurelton, celebrates the diversity of the district, with Ukrainian, Caribbean and African dress all represented this year. At PS 95 in Jamaica alone, more than 235 dialects are spoken, a music teacher from the school said.

But while students, teachers and parents showed plenty of spirit, chanting the names of their schools as they walked, the parade included far less participants than last year's event did, members of the District 29 education community said.

"Everybody's just a little disarrayed with the new structure of things," outgoing school board President Nat Washington said, noting that last year's festival drew several thousand marchers, while only a few hundred turned out Saturday.

On July 1 each school board in the city will be officially replaced by new groups the Department of Education is calling Community Education Councils. The move is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's overhaul of the school system.

The parade was founded 10 years ago by Antonio K'Tori, then an assistant principal at PS 136 in St. Albans and now the head of PS 268 in Jamaica. Last year Michael Johnson, then the superintendent of District 29, helped organize it and secured funds for a steel band.

But Johnson left for Albany in the fall, and District 29 was folded into the larger Region 3. The school board responded by adopting the parade.

"Last year was more direct with one person," Washington said. "With the region structure we're not getting the support. This year we're trying to do it on our own."

All the money for Saturday's parade was donated by the community and a clarinet player and a trumpet player from PS 95 in Jamaica were pressed into duty as percussionists in lieu of the steel drum band.

Christopher Afuwaha, a board member and the parade's grand marshal, said the event is considered a success "as long as we get the diversity, the color we know we have."

But Jeany Persaud, a Laurelton resident and the chairwoman of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council, said, "It's kind of hard to function, to put something together. There's no cooperation," she said of the relationship between the Department of Education and the outgoing board. "We cannot function under Region 3. It's too much; it's too big."

While the announcement for the parade came out late and there were other events Saturday, K'Tori, the parade's founder, said parents were leery of becoming involved in district functions.

"I think that communities across the city are not sure of what's going on or how it's happening," he said. But he called the mayor's education reforms long overdue and said principals should help explain the changes during parent conferences in the fall.

"Once the community understands the process then everything will be fine."

On Friday a dinner was held in honor of past and present board members and the new council. Devora Campbell, who will soon have served on both bodies, said the event was very powerful.

Parents will soon come back to events such as the parade, Campbell said.

"The parents represent the ones who are not here. The few that are here, that's a start."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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