Editorial: Family Court follies

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Things got ugly last week when the topic of a mural planned for the new Family Court Building came up at a meeting of Community Board 12. When the shouting was over, the board voted not to hear from the artist who was selected to paint the mural. Board Chairman James Davis concluded that it would not be appropriate to ask the artist to explain her proposal in such a hostile atmosphere.

This is not an auspicious start to the new millennium.

Much of the heat on this cold night centered around whether or not local businesses would be involved in building the courthouse. The question itself is not exactly fair. The new building will serve all of Queens County. This project is long overdue. It's understandable that the community board would want as much input as possible on the construction work, but the community cannot demand that local contractors get preference.

The community board members must realize that it was incredibly rude to ask the artist to attend, wait until she listens to endless hours of whining and then deny her the opportunity to speak. The board, which came off looking like buffoons, owes the artist an apology.

Levy takes charge

As one of his first official acts, Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy announced that parents of public school students would be notified by Jan. 31 if their children were at risk of not being promoted at the end of the year. Levy apparently wants to avoid the chaos that was created at the end of the last school year.

When the teachers heard this, they told their principals that the grades for the first semester would not be turned in until the first week of February. In some cases, these grades are linked to standardized tests that would not come back until after Levy's deadline. The principals asked the Board of Education to reconsider what had become a nearly impossible directive. No such luck.

Chancellor Levy has good intentions. One mandate for the new chancellor is to eliminate social promotion. No child will be promoted until he or she demonstrates the ability to do the work. Nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with trying to give parents early warning that their children are at-risk. But what is troubling is that, in his first week on the job, Levy and his staff were not willing to listen to reasonable suggestions coming from the people who run the schools.

Once again, we are reminded of the fortress mentality that has plagued the massive bureaucracy at 110 Livingston St.. Parents, teachers and even principals have no access to this bureaucracy. They are not asked for their opinions or feedback. The Board of Education is the Wizard of Oz and nobody speaks to the great and powerful Oz. Nobody, not nohow.

Levy is right to set tough standards but he would do well to listen closely to those people who know most directly the challenges facing our schools.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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