“We have tried to do everything the parents have asked us to do,” said Nat Washington,…
By Michael Morton
School Board 29 met for the final time last Thursday, reminding the community of what they had accomplished and encouraging their replacements to carry on their work.
“We have tried to do everything the parents have asked us to do,” said Nat Washington, president of the board for the last nine years. “We have done some great things in 29.”
On July 1, each school board in the city will be officially replaced by new groups the Department of Education is calling community education councils. The 11 voting members of the councils must have a child in the district they represent, a change from the old system. The move is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s overhaul of the school system.
School Board 29 represents Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans and part of Jamaica and Fresh Meadows.
During the current board’s reign, the district built additions on five or six schools and opened three others, including PS 266 on the Glen Oaks Campus, PS 268 in Jamaica and PS 270 in Laurelton, Washington said. PS 116 in Jamaica, PS 268 and PS 270 will switch to the kindergarten-to-eighth grade model from the K-6 starting next fall, a change with which the board was involved.
“That educational setting is the one that seems to work best now,” Washington said at the meeting, attended by about 40 people.
Also for the fall, Springfield Gardens High School will be reconfigured into four different academies, with no additional pupils coming into the facility for the year.
“There will be no new kids until they weed out some of the ones they have there,” Washington said of alleged troublemakers.
But District 29 also recently received negative publicity for declining scores on state reading tests for the fourth and eighth grades, numbers which came from the Department of Education’s Web site. The district was the only one in Queens in which the number of fourth-grade students scoring in the Level 1 failing category increased, by 1.7 percent. District 29 was also the only one to report a drop in eighth-grade students earning the highest score category, with a 1.9 percent decrease.
Washington said the statistics did not convey the full picture and urged parents to look at their children’s exams.
“Demand to see the tests,” he said.
During the meeting, City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a previous board president, stopped by to wish the outgoing members well. He commended them for their efforts and for continuing to meet after the creation of the councils, unlike in other school districts. He also asked them to keep advising him on education.
“You might not be on School Board 29, but I want to encourage you to continue to advocate for the children,” Comrie said.
District 29 Superintendent Walter O’Brien also applauded the work of past and present school boards, which were created in 1968. “They fought for the children for many, many hours,” he said of the outgoing group.
Of the 11 voting members, nine are voted on by the top officers in each parent and parent teacher association, a process which is now complete. Training began Saturday for the new group, although Borough President Helen Marshall still needs to select her second council appointee.
Two board members, Timothy James and Devora Campbell, have been chosen to be part of the council. James said the board did not get to see through all of its projects and the council must ensure that the proposed PS 263 in Queens Village gets built, that the district gets more certified teachers and that schools get more safety officers instead of regular police.
“I say to my new colleagues, ‘there’s a lot of work ahead of us,’” James said.
Washington urged the new members to work hard and not give up, continuing the legacy of his board.
“There are some great successes in School District 29 — don’t let people tell you otherwise,” he said. “You don’t have to send your kids to Manhattan for a good education.”
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.