By Adam Kramer
The tenure of school boards throughout the city could come to an abrupt end if Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way, but until then the newly elected member of School Board 29 believes he can make a difference.
Larry Smith was sworn-in last Thursday by the board to replace longtime member and now City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D- St. Albans) on the school board. Comrie stepped down from the board after he was elected to the Council late last year.
“I decided to run for the board to help,” said Smith, the father of a 12-year-old girl who attends IS 231. “I am a parent and concerned about my child’s education.”
An active participant in his daughter’s education since she started kindergarten at PS 251, Smith said the system and District 29 need help to get back on track. He pointed to three main concerns — early childhood education, overcrowding and lowering the district’s student-teacher ratio — and said he plans to work with the board to address them.
Smith, a computer specialist for the city’s Human Resources Administration, moved to the borough in 1992 and lives in Rosedale.
The embattled district covers a large swath of southeast Queens, stretching from Queens Village to Fresh Meadows and from Hollis to Rosedale. It also includes Cambria Heights, Rosedale, Laurelton, parts of Bellerose, Springfield Gardens and parts of Jamaica.
Smith said it is vital to improve the district’s early childhood education by adding more elementary schools such as PS 251 throughout the district.
“My daughter attended PS 251 and children who pass through these schools do better in the main educational system,” he said. “I want the children around the district to have the same opportunities that my daughter and her friends had.”
Smith called for reducing overcrowding through new construction and additions but said he understands the difficulty everyone in the city faces in light of the recent budget crunch.
In addition, Smith wants to lower the student-to-teacher ratio because it is too high and not conducive to learning, he said.
Smith was pleased that his concerns were already on the board’s agenda and said he plans to work as a “team player” to see that each gets completed. He said once a permanent superintendent is hired, he would work to make sure these problems remain on the forefront.
The new superintendent needs to remain at the job for a number of years to bring stability back to the district, he said.
The district has been without a permanent leader since Celestine Miller was fired in February 1999 by then-Chancellor Rudy Crew for delaying to report that an 8-year-old boy had brought a loaded gun into a Rosedale school. She was indicted in November 2000 on bid-rigging charges involving computer sales to schools under her control.
After Miller left, District 29 had an acting interim superintendent, but Levy suspended the school board, which was reinstated after District Administrator Michael Johnson arrived on the scene in early 2000.
“We need to develop stability so our children can learn,” Smith said. “Longevity has an impact on the distract. It hits us where we live and our children are suffering.”
He called for Schools Chancellor Harold Levy to allow the process of choosing a superintendent to proceed by letting the community choose the best candidate for the job.
“He needs to listen to the board and the parents,” he said. “If that is Johnson, so be it. I am not so concerned with the individual as compared to the performance.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.