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.
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
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.
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
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