Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First E. Ramapo board meeting with monitor draws crowd 

Dennis Walcott, the new state-appointed monitor to the East Ramapo school district, attended his first board of education meeting Tuesday night. He wasn't surprised by the raucous crowd, he told The Journal News.
"There is a lot of passion coming from people who want to get a solid education for their children," he said. "That is natural."
Flanked by Monica George-Fields, a member of his three-person monitoring team, and Douglas Gerhardt of Harris Beach, the district's new counsel, Walcott listened intently as waves of spirited community members — in both English and Spanish — poured out their frustration to the board during the 90-minute meeting at Chestnut Ridge Middle School.
More than 200 people, many bearing signs that called for a full Albany-sanctioned monitor bill, chanted and yelled encouragement behind various community speakers.
Walcott sat attentively, his ear pressed against a headphone to listen to the translated comments from Spanish speakers. When audience members noticed that board president Yehuda Weissmandl and other trustees were not wearing headsets, they shouted, "They don't care!"
The district has witnessed a steady diet of protests by parents, who have called for the resignations of both the Superintendent Joel Klein and the ultra-Orthodox-controlled school board. Parents  have complained for years that the board has diminished the  quality of education in the public schools by cutting programs and staffing. Many of the Hasidic students attend yeshivas, while the public school population is mostly Latino and African-American.
The meeting was a first-hand look for Walcott, who is expected to be on site regularly to meet with stakeholders and then formulate an action plan for the district. Since his appointment Thursday, Walcott has met with Weissmandl and visited Spring Valley High School, Ramapo High School, Kakiat Elementary School, and the First Baptist Church in Spring Valley to begin to formulate solutions, he said.
One theme that surfaced during his meetings with the community: parents' desire to bring back art and music to their children's education.
Of the overall situation in East Ramapo, Walcott said, "I feel it's manageable."

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