Dem Club panel mulls problems at city schools

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Two schools superintendents, a school board president and the teachers’ union treasurer called for improved teacher training, higher standards, and more money for teachers in a discussion at the Saul Weprin Democratic Club last week.

While the panelists agreed the school system works very well overall, they stressed a need for higher teacher salaries, and some called for a revamping of the teacher certification test.

District 28 Superintendent Neil Kreinik, former District 28 Superintendent Dr. Arnold Raisner, United Federation of Teachers Treasurer Michelle Boden, and School Board 26 President Sharon Maurer made up the panel, moderated by Democratic district leader David Weprin, who is a candidate for City Council.

Boden warned that as many as 10,000 teachers are scheduled to retire, and what she described as low teacher salaries in high-rent New York make for a losing combination.

“We are just not going to be able to attract new teachers into the city’s public school system,” she said. This situation, she said, leads to more unlicensed teachers getting jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. Unlicensed teachers must get their licenses to keep their jobs.

“It is not really fair to children not to have qualified teachers to teach them,” Boden said.

“We have up until now, been able to keep qualified teachers,” said Kreinik, whose district stretches from Forest Hills to Jamaica. “But by leaving the city early, they get larger pay raises at other places.”

“The leadership of New York City is setting the city school system up to fail,” said Maurer. District 26 in northeast Queens is the highest performing school district in the city.

But Maurer said the state has set good standards for leadership, and she praised the present school system by comparing it with the one of her youth when she said children were taught things by rote.

“Today they’re teaching children how to think. We are definitely doing something right with education,” she said. “People from around the world come to see how we teach because we are making all the new innovations.”

“Today we have 14,000 teachers who are uncertified,” Raisner said. “In five years we’ll need 61,000 new teachers. We are headed for absolute disaster unless we change the [ability] of the principal to serve and the experience of the teacher.”

Raisner said he started a program to instruct unlicensed teachers on passing the exam, which he also criticized.

“The test is so puerile,” he said, referring to the last one he saw. “Here we have 80 short-answer questions. People were failing left and right. So the chancellor said to me, ‘What are you doing about it?’ I said, ‘I’ll take the teachers who are the best, and I’ll train them, with a coaching course.’”

The program was implemented in District 29, which covers Queens Village, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens and parts of Jamaica as well as Fresh Meadows, and 103 teachers passed, he said.

Raisner identified leadership as one of the critical elements which needs improvement in the city’s school system today.

“The one thing that we have to watch is, are the leaders of the schools actually accountable for what they are doing, and are we moving all along together?,” he said.

He praised schools chancellor Harold Levy and Dr. Judith Rizzo, the deputy chancellor for curriculum and instruction, for their system reforms.

“We have come to a time where we are confronting difficult problems, but with marvelous promise. Never before did we have such a marvelous system,” he said

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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