The administrator who will run the schools in District 29 this fall remained calm under tough questioning from parents from southeast Queens at a forum June 12 at Springfield Gardens High School.
But no sooner had Judith Chin introduced her administrative team that will help her oversee Districts 29, 25, 26 and 28 than a barrage of questioning opened up on such issues as school leadership teams, diversity, curriculum and the possible closure of one Queens high school.
Chin, the proposed superintendent for what will be known as Region 3 under the new system, is a 25-year veteran of the New York City school system. She is now the superintendent for District 25 in Flushing, the city's second best performing school district after District 26 in Bayside.
She was accompanied by members of her team who will focus primarily on District 29, which covers Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans, Hollis, and Fresh Meadows.
Several parents at the forum demanded to know if the selection process for school leadership teams would be reconfigured under the revamped Department of Education.
"My experience with my own principal is that the only people allowed to do anything in the school are people that she can control," one parent said.
Chin promised no changes in the selection process, but contended that parents could act to remove school leadership team members who they believed were not performing well.
Another woman who did not give her name during the forum worried that centralized control of hiring would result in a lack of ethnic diversity among teachers and administrators.
"Will we see you take us back to how it was 30 years ago, that this will be a staff that is not reflective of the people in this community?" the woman, who was black, asked.
On that issue Chin responded quickly, indicating that she considered diversity crucial.
"I'm a Chinese-American and I've grown up in areas where my ethnic background was not reflected," Chin said. "You're talking to someone who understands."
But she also added that high standards for teachers and administrators would not be sacrificed in pursuit of diversity.
Gertrude Gonesh, a community activist in southeast Queens and former teacher in the city schools, attacked the administrators for not adopting a uniform curriculum for the school year beginning in the fall.
Taking particular umbrage at Chin's emphasis on professional development, Gonesh said, "Where is the curriculum? You're talking about teaching teachers. How can you teach teachers if you don't have a curriculum?"
Chin responded that a framework - not exactly a curriculum - was being developed, and that the framework would provide adequate guidance for teachers. Handbooks to help parents understand the material their children will learn would be made available, she said.
But most of the evening's time was devoted to discussion of the possible closure of the Queens site of the Program for Pregnant and Parenting Services. The school, headquartered in Manhattan with sites citywide, serves pregnant teens and mothers who cannot attend regular school.
About 20 students and teachers from the Queens site, the Ida B. Wells School, told Chin that the school was scheduled to be closed.
"Absolutely not true," said Gerard Beirne, one of Chin's team members and deputy superintendent for Queens high schools.
But Beirne backpedaled, admitting that it was possible the school was reorganizing or condensing.
"We're hurt. We're devastated," said one teacher. "We've begun packing up the rooms because we didn't know what else to do."
Chin and Beirne said ultimate authority for alternative programs like the Ida B. Wells school rested with other administrators, but said they would try to determine the school's fate.
That answer enraged the school's PTA president.
"You knew you were coming to this meeting," she told Beirne. "You knew the Ida B. Wells school was in your district. You should have answers for us tonight. You shouldn't be sitting up there telling us you'll get back to us. I resent that."
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2003 Community News Group
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