Monday, September 10, 2012

Few see answer for East Ramapo's strains 

Surendra Bansal recalls that when his older daughter was graduating from the East Ramapo school system in 2002, a recruiter from Harvard University who interviewed her made an off-the-cuff comment that could leave a parent proud.

"He said, 'I like East Ramapo kids,' " Bansal said. His grin was all nostalgia.

"I don't think they would say that now," the biochemist and research scientist from Suffern said. "The school system has been degraded. At this time, I would not want to put my daughters in this school system."

Bansal was at his umpteenth planning meeting for the Rockland Academy of Excellence, a charter school proposed for East Ramapo. The dozen or so key planners for the school are professionals from many fields who believe that middle-school-age children from East Ramapo, especially those with special challenges, deserve an alternative to the deeply troubled public schools.

It says a great deal that the lead organizer and would-be principal of the proposed school is Dionne Olamiju, who is assistant principal of Spring Valley High School in East Ramapo. She has worked in the district for more than a decade and helped create a summer program for middle-school students needing academic help. So she knows as well as anyone how the district's younger teens — almost all minorities with few social advantages — are faring today and what they might face tomorrow.

"We want to work in harmony with the school district and not have a contentious relationship," Olamiju said. "We care deeply about the school district and the children of East Ramapo."

Her group's application with the state, which could be approved soon, includes this telling line: "We anticipate that most of our students will start the school year with skills in English Language Arts and Math that are two or three grade levels behind."

Prognosticating East Ramapo's future has become a popular sport inside and outside the district. The divide appears so great between the needy public-school system and the Hasidic and Orthodox communities who live within its borders that many can't picture what a resolution might look like.


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