Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
My maternal grandmother, who had been a widow for decades, lived with my parents while I was growing up during the 1930s in the Bronx. She was an extremely religious woman who, when not helping my mother with the housekeeping, spent much of her time at home praying and studying the Bible. Her social life was centered on her synagogue, Tefereth Beth Jacob, a small Orthodox congregation located on 169th Street between the Grand Concourse and Walton Ave. It was around the corner from our apartment on the Concourse.Read more....
Grandma was the most religiously learned woman in the congregation and functioned as its unofficial matriarch. Every Saturday afternoon following the services, she would read Bible stories in Yiddish to at least a dozen elderly ladies gathered around her in the synagogue's women's section. Often she would be consulted by them on religious matters if the rabbi was unavailable or if the other women were uncomfortable discussing overly intimate subjects with him.
Grandma had the advantage of a religious education that few Eastern European Jewish women of her generation received. She had been raised on a mill located in what is now Belarus, far removed from Jewish communities. Because of its isolation in a rural region, her father employed live-in tutors to educate his five sons. Grandma was apparently an inquisitive young girl and regularly sat in on her brothers' lessons.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
City Will Close Five High Schools
The Department of Education will start to close five struggling high schools beginning next September. The schools are Urban Peace Academy and School for the Physical City in Manhattan and Samuel J. Tilden, South Shore, and the embattled Lafayette in Brooklyn. The DOE attributed the closings to, as the Daily News put it, "dismal graduation rates, consistently low test scores and lackluster demand."
The NY Times notes that four of the high schools were "run by principals who graduated from the New York City Leadership Academy," Mayor Bloomberg's brainchild; the DOE's line is "despite those principals’ best efforts, their schools had proved unsalvageable." That may be, but Lafayette High School's principal, Joalanta Rohloff seemed a magnet for controversy: She has been accused of bribing teachers into decorating their classrooms, she's withheld textbooks until old ones are returned, and, most recently, questioning why a 20 year old special ed student would want to go to community college. But the school has also been plagued with violence. United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tells the Daily News, "It is no secret that there have been problems at Lafayette, so its closing is not surprising. As to Lafayette, we are working with the DOE to create a redesigned school - and potentially two new schools - that parents will want to send their children to and where educators will want to teach."New plans for the schools will be released next year. And Lafayette has the most baseball players as alumni - including Sandy Koufax and John Franco; other notable alums include Gary David Goldberg, Paul Sorvino and Larry King.
December 7, 2006 -- The embattled principal of Lafayette HS is under the microscope again - this time for apparently belittling a 20-year-old special-education student for wanting to graduate with a non-Regents diploma and attend a community college.
A city Department of Education spokesman said officials in Brooklyn are investigating claims by the student, Chris Ciccone, and his mother. They say the principal, Jolanta Rohloff, harped on a sobbing Ciccone in her office in front of two other school staffers.
In the meeting, Ciccone expressed his desire to graduate next spring with a local diploma, a sheepskin not endorsed by the state Board of Regents and being phased out.
"She said to me, 'What kind of college do you think you're going to get into with a local diploma?' What kind of city job do you think you're going to get with a local diploma?' " Ciccone said.
He replied that he wanted to attend Kingsborough Community College.
"She said, 'What kind of degree do you think you're going to get there?' " Ciccone claimed. "I was crying, just sitting there for five or 10 minutes crying in front of her, and she just kept insulting me."
Ciccone met with Rohloff, an assistant principal and a guidance counselor, on Tuesday to question why he was held to a school policy in which students' Regents course grades are reduced if they do not score at least 65 on the corresponding Regents exam.
Two of his passing course grades were reduced to failing - and could prevent him from graduating - because he scored 61 and 56 on the tests.
He argued that he should be held to a different standard because changes to state graduation regulations requiring students to pass Regents exams with a minimum score of 65 - the basis for the school policy - do not apply to students his age.
Ciccone entered ninth grade in 2001, and state regulations say that such students are eligible to graduate with a local diploma by scoring 55 or above on five Regents exams.
He is also exempt from those changes because students with disabilities may pass so-called Regents Competency Tests to earn local diplomas.
Rohloff did not return a phone call for comment. An Education Department spokesman said Rohloff insists she was trying to motivate Ciccone to earn a more prestigious Regents diploma, not demean him.
"I'm 20 years old. How long does she want me to stay in high school? I'm trying to get out," said Ciccone, who said he wants to join the Navy.
The probe is the latest setback for Rohloff, who in her two years leading Lafayette has antagonized students, teachers and alumni with her iron will to turn around the oft-troubled school.
She's been reprimanded for arbitrarily imposing her Regents grade-retention policy and comparing the school to a Nazi camp.
New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
BY TANYANIKA SAMUELS and BILL HUTCHINSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Tuesday, December 12th, 2006
Five failing high schools were slated for closure yesterday, including a Brooklyn campus boasting a principal who was a grad of Mayor Bloomberg's elite Leadership Academy.
Education officials said dismal graduation rates, consistently low test scores and lackluster demand prompted the schools' shuttering.
The soon-to-be defunct institutions are Lafayette High in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; South Shore High in Canarsie, Brooklyn; Samuel J. Tilden High in East Flatbush, Brooklyn; Urban Peace Academy in East Harlem, and the School for the Physical City in Gramercy Park.
Education brass met with teachers and principals at all of the schools yesterday to break the news.
"These are schools that we've reviewed for a long time and have a track record of low performance and difficult circumstances," said Melody Meyer, spokeswoman for the Department of Education.
Sources said Jolanta Rohloff, Lafayette's controversial principal and a graduate of Bloomberg's Leadership Academy for principals, was the primary catalyst for the surprise decision.
But Education Department spokesman David Cantor defended Rohloff: "We think that she has performed very well in difficult circumstances."
Since arriving at the Bensonhurst school in 2005, Rohloff has had a series of missteps, including docking students' grades for failing to score higher than 65 on Regents exams and paying teachers overtime to tidy up their classrooms.
She also prompted a student walkout by having a mural they created painted over and caused outrage this year by withholding textbooks from students for up to six weeks.
"It is no secret that there have been problems at Lafayette, so its closing is not surprising," said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
"As to Lafayette, we are working with the DOE to create a redesigned school - and potentially two new schools - that parents will want to send their children to and where educators will want to teach," she said.
The schools will be phased out over the next three years, with the three large Brooklyn high schools likely replaced by smaller schools.
More detailed plans will be released next month, Meyer said.
The schools will not accept ninth-graders in the fall. The approximately 6,100 students already enrolled at the campuses will be allowed to graduate from them, the last classes in 2010.
Graduation rates at all of the schools have routinely been well below the citywide average of 58%.
Crime has also been an issue at several schools, especially Tilden, which in August was named among the 17 most violent public schools in the state.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Today they call Lafayette "low performing", a nice euphemism for apathy: Teachers and students who don't want to be there. Back in another era, the students really had no choice, but I suppose the teachers had a good thing, so why would they upset the two month long vacation and job security by actually trying to give a damn about why they should be there in the first place?
To underscore the drastic situation at Lafayette, it looks like they're going to level the building and blot out the name. They plan on replacing the prison-like structure with 5 smaller schools. It's probably a step in the right direction, but just having 5 mini Lafayetts on the site won't solve the problem. It has to start from the top down. Teachers and principals who actually want to teach and make a difference in students' lives, not just be there and occupy space while waiting for the nice pension checks to come in.
I plan on being at the demolition with my camera watching Lafayette turn into trash, nothing but trash. Maybe I'll save a few bricks to put on Ebay to sell to the 6 people who have fond memories of the dump.
New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com Lafayette celeb grads sad but students glad
BY TANYANIKA SAMUELS and CARRIE MELAGO
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Wednesday, December 13th, 2006
Famous alums of Brooklyn's Lafayette High School reacted with sadness yesterday to news of the school's imminent demise - but current students said it's about time.
"It's a real shame," said Steven Schirripa, a 1975 grad who plays Bobby Bacala on "The Sopranos." "It was a really good school. I don't know what went wrong."
Education officials announced Monday that Lafayette - the alma mater of such luminaries as broadcast legend Larry King and baseball great Sandy Koufax - will be phased out along with four other failing schools.
While actor and 1956 graduate Paul Sorvino remembered Lafayette yesterday as a place with a "wonderful spirit," today's students complained of chaos in the hallways and classrooms.
"I feel like I'm in prison sometimes. Kids set papers on the bulletin boards on fire and in the trash in the bathrooms," said sophomore Malaysia Goddard, 15. "It's crazy here sometimes."
HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant, 75, a 1948 Lafayette graduate, reminisced about the thrill of playing home football games at Ebbets Field and listening to crooner Vic Damone, another grad, sing at the senior prom.
"It had a pretty good run," Merchant said. "Things evolve and change, and I hope the change suits the needs of the current system."
Schirripa reminisced about his junior varsity basketball coach teaching his driver's education class, while Sorvino fondly remembered his leading roles in "The Monkey's Paw" and "Stage Door."
"Lafayette exists in my mind now as a metaphor, a paradigm of creative experience and personal fulfillment," Sorvino said, "and now these kids don't have that."
Today's students described a poisonous environment at the school, whose controversial principal, Jolanta Rohloff, has been under scrutiny for paying teachers overtime to clean classrooms and improperly lowering the grades of students who score below 65 on Regents exams.
Regine Medard, a 16-year-old junior, complained of graffiti on desks, and ratty books, including a global history text that doesn't cover all of the time periods needed to pass the Regents.
"They need to phase it out. It would be better for the students," she said. "I think more of them would go to classes and there'll be less problems, less conflicts."
But other students were dubious of the reorganization, which could put three smaller schools on Lafayette's site.
"It's stupid 'cause Lafayette's been here forever," said senior Michael Osyesanya, 18.
With the swearing in of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense this morning, the failed Rumsfeld era comes to a close.
As we saw last week, the President and his Administration are going to try and paint a rosy picture of his tenure, but no amount of revisionist history can change the facts - that Donald Rumsfeld's history is one of deadly misjudgments and overly optimistic projections that never came to pass.
Here's a look back at some of his greatest misses:
Rumsfeld’s History Of Failure
September 2002: Rumsfeld Said Iraqis Would Start “Singing and Flying Kites” After Liberation. "Think of the faces in Afghanistan when the people were liberated, when they moved out in the streets and they started singing and flying kites and women went to school and people were able to function and other countries were able to start interacting with them. That's what would happen in Iraq." [Media Roundtable, 9/13/02]
February 2003: Rumsfeld “Doubts” the War Will Last Six Months. During a town hall meeting with troops, Rumsfeld said that if the US went to war in Iraq, although “it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” [Town Hall Meeting, 2/7/03]
March 2003: Rumsfeld Said “We Know Where” The WMD Are. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, when asked why the military had not found Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction yet, Rumsfeld said, “We know where [the WMD] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” [ABC, 3/30/03]
June 2003: Rumsfeld Says Army's Estimates of Troops Needed For Post-War Iraq Were Too High. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz criticized the Army's chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, after Shinseki told Congress in February 2003 that the occupation could require "several hundred thousand troops." Wolfowitz called Shinseki's estimate "wildly off the mark." [USA Today, 6/2/03]
July 2003: Generals Admit Bush Administration Never Had Concrete Plan for Post-War Iraq. Bush administration officials and military personnel admitted that there was never a real plan for post-war Iraq operations. Posed with the question of whether the Army had an outlined plan for peacekeeping in Iraq, V Corps Commander Lt. Gen. William Wallace said “Well, we’re making this up here as we go along.” A former-senior administration official said, “There was no real planning for postwar Iraq.” Knight Ridder reported, “The disenchanted U.S. officials today think the failure of the Pentagon civilians to develop such detailed plans contributed to the chaos in post-Saddam Iraq. ‘We could have done so much better,’ lamented a former senior Pentagon official, who is still a Defense Department adviser.” [Newsweek, 7/21/03; Knight Ridder, 7/12/03, emphasis added]
February 2004: Rumsfeld Says “We Do Not Expect” to Have 115,000 Troops Permanently Deployed In Any One Place. “The increased demand on the force we are experiencing today is likely a ‘spike,’ driven by the deployment of nearly 115,000 troops in Iraq. We hope and anticipate that that spike will be temporary. We do not expect to have 115,000 troops permanently deployed in any one campaign.” [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 2/4/04]
December 2004: Rumsfeld Dismissed Shortage Of Armored Humvees, Told Troops To Go To War With What You Have. One soldier asked Rumsfeld why their combat vehicles were not properly armed. "You go to the war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld responded. "Not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later date." The response struck many military families as callous. [UPI, 12/9/04; CNN, 12/9/04]
August 2006: Rumsfeld Says There Is Violence, But No Civil War. When asked whether Iraq was fighting a civil war, Rumsfeld said, “There's no question there's a high level of sectarian violence…[which is] a shame…But it -- the people who look at it contend that they're not in it, and the government of Iraq says they're not in a civil war…” [Department of Defense News Briefing, 8/22/06]
"I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started."
"We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead."
"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." –on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.""Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." –on looting in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, adding "stuff happens"
"As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
"[Osama Bin Laden is] either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive."
"I am not going to give you a number for it because it's not my business to do intelligent work." -asked to estimate the number of Iraqi insurgents while testifying before Congress
"I believe what I said yesterday. I don't know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it's what I said."
"Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said."
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know."
"If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be inaccurate, but I'm disinclined to mislead anyone."
"There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist." -on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
"It is unknowable how long that conflict [the war in Iraq] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." -in Feb. 2003
"Well, um, you know, something's neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so, I suppose, as Shakespeare said."
"Secretary Powell and I agree on every single issue that has ever been before this administration except for those instances where Colin's still learning."
"Learn to say 'I don't know.' If used when appropriate, it will be often."
"I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know."
"I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty."
"I don't do quagmires."
"I don't do diplomacy."
"I don't do foreign policy."
"I don't do predictions."
"I don't do numbers."
"I don't do book reviews."
"Now, settle down, settle down. Hell, I'm an old man, it's early in the morning and I'm gathering my thoughts here."
"If I know the answer I'll tell you the answer, and if I don't, I'll just respond, cleverly."
"Oh, Lord. I didn't mean to say anything quotable."
Sunday, December 17, 2006
The U.S. government will soon enforce new passport requirements for all travelers entering or re-entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Travel between the U.S. and U.S. territories (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) will not be affected.
For more information about new passport rules that apply to U.S. citizens as well as to citizens of Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, click on the links below.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
For those who have not seen "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers," a Brave New Film by Robert Greenwald, do yourself a favor and take a look. The movie, along with T. Christian Miller's excellent, if jarring, book "Blood Money," demonstrates the myriad abuses by Halliburton, CACI, Titan, Blackwater and others who thought they had a green light to the American treasury. Sadly, it appears that for the past six years, that's just what they've had.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
“In my view it is time for a major adjustment,” wrote Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a symbol of a dogged stay-the-course policy. “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”
Nor did Mr. Rumsfeld seem confident that the administration would readily develop an effective alternative. To limit the political fallout from shifting course, he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.
“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’
“Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist,” he added. The memo suggests frustration with the pace of turning over responsibility to the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the memo calls for examination of ideas that roughly parallel troop withdrawal proposals presented by some of the White House’s sharpest Democratic critics.”