Public advocate holds town hall on education
by Holly Bieler
Mar 04, 2015 | 1 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Education officials joined Public Advocate Letitia James for the first in a series of town halls on education last Wednesday night, just hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio directly addressed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial education overhaul for the first time. During testimony on the state budget in Albany, de Blasio called for the governor to permanently extend mayoral control, the system first implemented under the Bloomberg administration that grants the mayor extensive controls over the city’s education system, and which is slated to expire in June. The debate over mayoral control took center stage on Wednesday night, with local parents and school officials squaring off on the system’s merits. “I worked for 39 years in the public school system,” said Anna-Maria Thomas, a clinical psychologist and former high school counselor. “My recommendation? Remove mayoral control. We are not being fairly represented. We are paying taxes, but our money doesn’t even get to our children. Give parents back the right to do good by their children.” Before 2002, the Board of Education comprised 32 school boards of elected representatives, but the system was dismantled under Bloomberg amidst allegations of rampant corruption and concerns that boards were lacking in accountability. Under the current system, the mayor oversees the system’s operating budget through the Department of Education (DOE), and appoints both the schools chancellor and eight of the 13 members of the Panel for Educational Policy, the legislative body implemented in the school boards’ place. Natasha Capers, a NYC Coalition for Educational Justice commissioner and mother of two, who sat on the panel of experts, pointed to the fact that many current parents were unacquainted with the past system. “I think there are parents in the room who very clearly remember school boards,” she said. “I have no idea what that looks like. I want us to be really thoughtful when we say let's go back to the old system, it was really great. We have a whole generation of parents who have no idea what you’re talking about.” After the meeting, James said the night’s takeaway on mayoral control was that the system needed to be altered, not necessarily terminated. “I would think the vast majority want to mend mayoral control,” she said. “No one wants to see it stay the way it is.” What, precisely, that mending might look like monopolized much of the discussion on Wednesday, with James asking panelists for their thoughts on the aspects of mayoral control most often criticized, including accountability, and where parents’ voices could be implemented, among other issues. “I think what we need here is a certain degree of local control,” said David Goldsmith, president of Community Education Council (CEC) 13. He suggested establishing a parent commission that would constitute half the seats on the PEP, while a handful of elected officials could appoint the other half. “Then you don’t have one elected official running the show, you have a real opportunity for real engagement,” he said. Calls for increased parent and community input in the system were repeated throughout the night. Members of the panel said the lack of control the DOE allowed CEC's was contributing to difficulties recruiting parents to the councils. “I think the biggest issue is the lack of support the CEC’s get,” said Ellen McHugh, the public advocate’s appointee to the Citywide Council on Special Education. “We get very little training. Local CEC’s are not powerful. Only those of us who are nuts would think about being a part of it.” “We’ve been fighting all these years and are voices haven’t been heard,” added District 20 CEC President Laurie Windsor. “Now parents are saying, why bother?” While panelists were quick to commend the work of the DOE, long-simmering tensions between parent boards and the department surfaced throughout the night, with many parents saying the department has historically not done enough to support local parents. “I know the parents sometimes seem like the enemy,” said Capers, who called for a re-organization of the Division of Family and Community Engagement, with a focus on restructuring the training program and models of parent engagement. “We’re not. I just gave you the best thing I ever did in my life.” Public Advocate Letitia James speaks a town hall on education she hosted in Brooklyn last week.
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Uzbek community reacts to Brooklyn terror wannabes
by Patrick Kearns
Mar 04, 2015 | 3 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brooklyn’s Uzbek community reacted to the news of the criminal complaint charging Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, Akhror Saidakhmetov, and Abror Habibov with attempt and conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at a press conference last week. Borough President Eric Adams and Farhod Sulton of the Brooklyn-based Vatandosh Uzbek-American Federation stood side-by-side at Oasis Café on Coney Island Avenue on February 26 to say that the actions of the arrested individuals are not representative of the community. “That was already an ongoing thing in our community,” Sulton said. “We were concerned that these people may destroy our reputation.” Sulton told the assembled press that he knew the 30-year-old Habibov – who, along with 19-year-old Juraboev, was an Uzbek national – but hadn’t communicated with him in the last four or five years. “It was a surprise for me,” Sulton said of the arrest of Habibov. Sulton said that nothing about his past would have led him to believe the news of the arrests, as reported by the United States Department of Justice. However, in light of the arrests, Sulton said that more needs to be done to educate the Uzbek youth living in Brooklyn. “I think there must be programs put in place to address these issues,” Sulton said, concerning religious education. “[The arrested individuals] don’t have the proper education and background in religion. “There are some concepts in Islam that people understand in a totally different way,” Sulton elaborated earlier in the press conference. He didn’t go into detail on specific teachings, but said it would be helpful to get Imams and religious leaders to the mosques in Brooklyn to help teach Islam to the youth. Juraboev first came to the attention of law enforcement in August 2014, according to the Department of Justice. He drew the department’s attention after a posting on an Uzbek-language website that propagates ISIL’s ideology. A subsequent investigation revealed that Juraboev and Saidakhmetov planned to travel to Syria by way of Turkey “for the purpose of waging jihad on behalf of ISIL.” The complaint also alleges that Habibov helped the individuals in the way of financing their travel. It was also reveled in the complaint that Juraboev was prepared to engage in an act of terrorism in the United States if asked. “The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies,” stated United States Attorney Loretta Lynch. “As alleged in the complaint, two of the defendants in this case sought to travel to Syria to join ISIL but were also prepared to wage violent jihad here in the United States. A third defendant allegedly provided financial assistance and encouragement.” While the small Uzbek community of Brooklyn tries to distance themselves from the arrest, they are continuing to be proactive in working alongside state and city officials to ensure that something like this is prevented in the future. Without a large Kazak community in Brooklyn, an official statement was released by the Kazakstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Secretary regarding the arrest of Saidakhmetov. “In principle, Kazakhstan supports the efforts of the international community and the United States, particularly in the fight against violent extremism and the so-called ‘Islamic state,’” the statement said. “We are ready to provide comprehensive assistance to the U.S. authorities in the investigation of the case.”
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