P.S. 191: Mr. Levy, Take Note

Something unique is

happening in northeast Queens, and those of us accustomed to bad news

from the city’s public schools ought to pay attention. For the third consecutive year, School District 26, which takes

in such neighborhoods as Floral Park, Bayside, Bellerose, Douglaston and

Little Neck, produced the highest score

among the city’s 31 districts in fourth-grade reading tests. Eighty-one percent

of the children who took the test met state standards. To give an idea of the

magnitude of this achievement, consider that citywide only 44 percent of fourth

graders met the standard. The test was given to 73,182 students at 687 schools.

Clearly, superintendent Claire McIntee, school-board

president Sharon Maurer and the parents, teachers and staff in District 26 must

be doing something right. What’s the secret?

According to Stan Weber, the district’s deputy superintendent, it’s not

very complicated. “It’s truly a team effort,” he said. “Everybody contributes,

from the superintendent to the teachers to the parents to the support staff.

The superintendent makes sure that everybody is aware of the role he or she

plays in nurturing children and making sure that school is a pleasant place.”

It is worth noting that District 26 is a diverse,

multi-ethnic community. Among the top-scoring schools was P.S. 191 in Floral

Park, where 95 percent of fourth graders met the standard. This is truly

extraordinary. Mr. Weber pointed out that P.S. 191

has a “very mixed” student body, a large English-as-second-language

program and no special program for gifted students. “Starting on the first day

of kindergarten, literacy is the focal point,” said Ann Porfilio, the

principal. “Some of the students come here unable to speak English, but after

four years, they can meet state standards. I credit our talented teachers.”

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy should sit down immediately with this

outstanding group of educators, find out

what they are doing and apply it to every other elementary school, particularly

the schools attended by the 41,200 students who failed the test.

Those of us who care about public schools have no shortage

of complaints. We ought to remember that all is not lost, and that dedicated

professionals, committed parents and motivated students can make a difference.

It’s happening in District 26; may it soon happen throughout the city.

The Unions’

Stranglehold on the City

Most New Yorkers are starting to pay attention to the

would-be candidates for Mayor, and imagine that they will have plenty of time

before November to assess the merits of each. Yet even before the campaigns of

Alan Hevesi, Mark Green, Fernando Ferrer, Peter Vallone, Herman Badillo and

Michael Bloomberg have moved into high gear, you can be sure that some of the

candidates have already been compromised by the power that unions in New York

wield over elected officials. In particular, the teachers’ union and the city’s

public-employee unions-firefighters, police,

sanitation workers, health-care workers and corrections officers-use

their vote-getting muscle to hold candidates hostage and make demands which

have little to do with what’s best for New York. The candidates fall over

backwards making promises to these unions in return for a block of votes. And when the candidate takes

office, he or she ends up negotiating with the very same union which put

him or her there.

This shady arrangement,

with its quid pro quos, is no different from the soft-money scandals. It

is unlikely that a Mayor elected with the support of the United Federation of

Teachers-with its phone banks, newsletters and rides provided for voters to the

polls-will then turn around and play hardball with that union over a teacher

pay raise.

New York needs to

rethink the way in which the city’s fiscal policy ends up being shaped

by labor unions. Witness how the teachers’ union killed the Edison Schools project, by scaring parents away from

what could have been their children’s last hope for a decent education.

Or Hillary Clinton’s recent, beaming photo op with teachers’ union president

Randi Weingarten, which was a carefully staged payback for the union’s support

of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Had she posed with Marc Rich, or any unscrupulous big-money donor to her and her husband’s

political machine, there would have been an outcry. Yet she and many

local politicians are as surely in the pocket

of Ms. Weingarten as they are beholden to wealthy private-sector

contributors. Mark Green, to his credit, has refused to say yes to the demands

of the teachers’ union-and was booed at a union convention. But he is still in

earnest pursuit of other union endorsements.

Voters must challenge candidates who sell the city down the

river to win union support. Perhaps the

city needs to insulate the Mayor from labor wage negotiations. Until

then, we will all continue to pay the bill.

Memorial Day

Traffic jams on the Long Island Expressway, deer ticks

hiding in the bushes, people pushing and

shoving their way through crowded, second-rate restaurants-yes, it’s summer in

New York, that bizarre season when otherwise-sane people spend small

fortunes and endless hours trying to get themselves to the beaches of the

Hamptons by Friday night-only to turn around and come back at dawn on Sunday to

beat the traffic. By the time September comes, they are exhausted, still as

cranky as they were in May, and return to the city for a much-needed vacation.

Meanwhile, those who favor weekends upstate or in the Berkshires or Litchfield

County must contend with boisterous mosquitoes and dining experiences that are

hard to swallow.

The Memorial Day weekend is the start of the exodus. For

some reason, New Yorkers believe that it’s unfashionable to remain in Manhattan

during the warm-weather months. This notion

is a relic from the pre-air-conditioning era. But never has the city

been such a fine place to spend summer weekends. New York is now the safest

large city in the country; new parks, such as

the Hudson River Park, are opening; restaurants are less populated, and consequently

the food and service are often much better; theaters and museums are open for

business.

But maybe New Yorkers need to get out of town on summer

weekends-to recreate the tension and anxiety which the city offers the rest of

the year. P.S. 191: Mr. Levy, Take Note