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Queens Chronicle

Dems talk education in race for 27th CD

All seek intervention over closures; have nuanced differences on charters

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:40 am, Thu Jun 13, 2013.

Democrats running for the City Council in the 27th District have their differences on some aspects of education.

But all said they believe in having more local control over instruction and curriculum in a candidate forum held Monday night at the Campus Magnet Educational Complex in Cambria Heights.

Candidates included Manuel Caughman, an aide to Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica), who has the party’s endorsement; attorney Joan Flowers; Community Board 12 member Greg Mays; transit union President Daneek Miller; Sondra Peeden, an aide to Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica); and attorney Clyde Vanel.

The seat currently is held by Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who is being forced out by term limits.

Comrie is seeking the Democratic nomination for Queens borough president.

All said they would increase resources available to the district, though none specified how or where they would find the money to do so.

Intervention, all said, is a key to saving failing students and failing schools.

Flowers, for example, said mandatory pre-kindergarten is essential for getting children off to a good start that can determine their future success.

“We need to teach the critical thinking that will make them the small business owners and job creators of tomorrow, the medical personnel of tomorrow, the educators of tomorrow,” she said.

All were critical of how Mayor Bloomberg has handled mayoral control, particularly his focus on closing schools.

Mays said the city must diagnose schools at the first sign of trouble, rather than letting students fail while waiting for their schools to close.

“Look online at the schools’ report cards, and you can get a good idea of which schools will be closing in two or three years,” Mays said.

Vanel said schools that raise red flags should be evaluated to see if things like more teacher training, student tutoring, longer school days or other remedies would boost performance.

All said more input from parents is absolutely necessary.

“I visit PTA meetings and there are only 15 parents there,” Caughman said. Peeden proposed an academy for parents in which she said they could receive useful training and information to aid in their participation in their children’s education.

None of the candidates said they approved of co-location of charter schools in the same building as existing schools if the only aim is to take resources away from the older institutions.

And Peeden said some plans, such as a proposal to place an alternative high school program in an existing middle school, must be stopped, period.

“A building should not have 12-year-olds with 18-, 19- or 20-year-old men who have shown they had difficulties in regular schools,” she said.

Miller said proper planning and funding can help many ills in the community, citing Campus Magnet as an example.

“This building should be a beacon in the community,” Miller said, explaining that the right in-school and after-school programs would offer constructive and safe academic, social and sports activities for neighborhoods at large.

And while everyone said the aim is to make students college- and career-ready, Miller said the city and Department of Education need to offer other options.

“Not everyone is going to go to college,” he said.

He recommended a partnership with unions modeled after one his Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 1056 operates — an apprenticeship program that teaches young people interested in becoming mechanics and technicians.

And all said the problem of violence in schools is a symptom of a larger problem.

“Our children come to school with social issues that children in other districts don’t have,” Mays said.

Vanel added that “some students say it is easier for them to get a gun than a laptop. That is a problem.”

They said schools can help with things like counseling, anger management and other programs.

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