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Bronx borough President concerned about City’s budget cuts

Bronx borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr., warned today about the negative effects that Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts will have in the quality of life of New Yorkers. “Certain services, especially our public schools, must be held harmless from budget cuts, and the mayor’s plan to lay off more than 4,000 of our teachers is unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

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Co-op City killer sentenced to 90 years to life in prison

Former Co-op City janitor Paulino Valensuela, 54, was sentenced to 90 years to life in prison for killing his boss and wounding two co-workers at the housing complex in 2007.

“You have no remorse,” judge Alvin Yearwood said, according to New York Daily News. “That’s why this sentencing is going to be very easy.” After listening to the sentence, Valensuela jumped out of his chair and tried to escape. He was immediately stopped by five court officers. [New York Daily News]

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State seeking to shut down Kinsgbridge charter school

The New York State Education Department plans to seek the revocation of the charter of the Kingsbridge Innovative Design Charter School because of financial mismanagement.

Six months after being opened, the Bronx school was put on probation and required to follow a remedial action plan. The Board of Regents will take a decision on May 17. [The Wall Street Journal]

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NYPD looking for robbery suspect targeting elderly women

Police in the Bronx are searching for a man they believe robbed five senior women in the last two weeks. In each robbery, the suspect followed the women to their homes and attacked them.

The latest robbery took place on Wednesday around 2:20 p.m. in Tremont. The men followed an 80-year-old woman into her building and offered to help her with her groceries. The suspect later asked for a dollar as a reward and, when the victim said she did not have money, he tried to take her pocketbook.

Other attacks were reported in Norwood. [ABC News]

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Emotional pleas aside, panel votes to close Bronx Academy

When Angel Sosa transferred to Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx almost a year and a half ago as a sophomore, he only had 10 credits out of the roughly 44 needed to graduate. “I woke up this morning with three acceptance letters to college,” the 18-year-old senior told  the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which on Thursday night voted to close the school.

In March, the Department of Education proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and its inability to turn its failing record around quickly. The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards.

Students and teachers presented data to demonstrate the changes the school has implemented in the past eight months under the leadership of new Principal Gary Eisinger. According to a 43-page document distributed to the panel, the school saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students who passed the Regents exams, and attendance is up to 73 percent from 67 percent.

Senior Snanice Kittel, 16, told the panel members that  her teachers genuinely cared about students and were helping them to succeed. “They will call in the morning to make sure you go to class. And they will even visit your house and talk to your parents if you haven’t come,” she said, explaining that these practices were put in place under the new administration.

Their case was not persuasive enough to convince the panel to vote to save the school.

“We are proud of the work Gary has done in the school,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “Even if there has been improvement, it’s well below what we expect to see,” he said, adding that the numbers presented by the school staff was inaccurate and that its own assessment revealed a different story.

Frederick R. Coscia, a statistician and economics teacher at Bronx Academy, insisted the Department of Education was basing its decision to close the school on two-year-old data. “We deserve our own report this year,” he said.

Monica Major, the Bronx representative to the panel, requested a postponement of the vote to phase out of the school. The motion was denied.

“We asked for a miracle, we got it and now we will not see the end of it,” said Major as the audience yelled at the panel to “look at the data.” She reminded her colleagues on the panel that Bronx Academy High School is a transfer school that takes students who  have already failed in other schools. Opened in 2003, this “transfer school” serves an alternative for overage students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school.

Despite acknowledging the work done by transfer schools and what they represent, the newly appointed Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Bronx Academy “has not done the job.” “We base our decisions on facts and not solely on emotions,” he said, citing the school’s poor performance and its inclusion in the New York State’s “persistent lower achieving” schools list.

“We cannot allow more students to go to a school that is not performing at the standards,” Walcott said.

After four and half hours of testimony and amid chorus of “lies, lies” and “shame on you,” the panel approved the phase-out of Bronx Academy by nine votes to five. Only the five borough representatives opposed the closure. Starting in September, the school will not accept new students and will have until June 2013 to graduate those who are currently enrolled. It will be replaced by Bronx Arena High School, a transfer school that will open its door for the 2011-2012 school year.

English teacher Robert MacVicar expressed his disappointment with the chancellor and the panel for not giving the school a one-year reprieve. “I am saddened by Mr. Walcott’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s failure to take reasonable and compassionate account of our students’ deep and abiding goodness, despite their sometimes soul-trying circumstances at home and on the mean streets of South Bronx,” he said.

Visibly upset, Angel Sosa asked why the panel did not take his testimony and others who spoke into consideration. “I had come with hope,” he said.

As students and supporters of the school left, Principal Eisinger said he appreciated the support he received.

“I put a lot of heart into the school,’’ he said, “and it shows.”

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Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper

By Clara Martinez Turco

Over 150 Catholic Bronxites attended the mass of the Lord’s last supper on Thursday at Holy Cross Church in Clason Point. Rev. Peter Pomposello reenacted the washing of the feet–a ritual that replicates Christ’s action of cleansing the feet of his 12 disciples before his last passover meal. See our slide show.


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Parishioners Holy Cross Church, in the Bronx, attended the mass of the Lord's Supper (Photo credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

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DIGITAL BRONX: Milk, sugar, eggs, pixels

By Clara Martinez Turco

Customers order a birtday cake at Valencia Bakery (Photo credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

Inside Valencia Bakery in Mott Haven, the phone almost never stops ringing. Its manager Eddy quickly writes down orders for birthday cakes, detailing fillings and icing colors. “Yellow and black is possible,” he says over the phone to a woman who needs a cake for Sunday.

Meanwhile, customers enter the shop to peek at the glass cases filled with sample cakes. “I grew up eating Valencia cakes,” says a woman as she chose a 9-inch pineapple cake with white creamy frosting for her 10-year-old son’s birthday. Valencia Bakery is fixture of East 138th Street and has been the source for cakes in the neighborhood ever since it opened in 1948.

But six years ago, the bakery launched its website, and now 70 percent of the phone calls it receives are from customers who saw the website and want to either order cakes or inquire about them. “Having the website is the best thing I ever did,” says the store manager Eddy, who is so adamant about using only his first name publicly that it is the only name printed on his business cards.

As traditional stores in the Bronx look for ways to expand their businesses during the post-recession, many retailers have turned to the Internet as a way to build their clientele. Although bakeries and pastry shops, like Valencia and Artuso Pastry, cannot fully embrace online sales because of the perishable nature of their products, they still use online tools to go beyond the reach of the neighborhood’s and the borough’s boundaries.

Artuso's customers can order a mini-cannoli kit online

Unlike Valencia, which uses its website as a showcase for its cakes, Artuso Pastry, a family-owned shop that has been in Little Italy since 1946, has been selling a mini-cannoli kit for the past three years that customers can buy online. It is the only pastry shop in the area that offers this service. “We wanted to launch an e-commerce site to stay relevant and keep up with the times,” says Concetta Artuso Mangano, marketing coordinator at Artuso Pastry.

People who moved out of New York and want a taste of Arthur Avenue order most of the cannoli-kits; other customers buy them as gifts, says Artuso Mangano. Although e-commerce only represents a small part of the pastry shop’s sales, the company plans to expand its online business in the next couple of months by adding more signature items like tiramisu and sfogliatelle pastries.

Artuso Pastry also relies on Facebook to share pictures of its cake creations and to provide a space so customers can share their experiences at the store. “I can’t say how many comments we get where people say ‘I remember when my parents or grandparents used to bring me to your store and I can’t wait to come back to New York,’” says Artuso Mangano, pointing out that their biggest form of advertisement is word of mouth.

Conti's Pastry Shoppe has opened at Morris Park Avenue since 1921

Similarly, most of the new customers of Conti’s Pastry Shoppe, which has been on Morris Park Avenue since 1921, are people who see pictures of their intricate cakes on its Facebook page, its Twitter feed (@ContiConfection) or bakery television shows like Ace of Cakes and the Cake Boss. “They either want to duplicate a cake or do a recreation of a cake they saw, and we don’t say no to anything,” says Conti’s co-owner Sal Paljevic, explaining that one of their most elaborated cakes includes a motorcycle replica.

Conti’s co-owner Christina DiRusso believes the use of social media and Internet sites like and, where users can rate the shop and leave comments, have also been beneficial because of the buzz they create. “Hearing it from peers and friends works better than the shop telling you ‘We’re great and this is what we do.’ It also feels more authentic,” she says. According to a recent Facebook statement published by The New York Times, customers are more likely to buy items online or visit stores if they see it mentioned on their friends’ Facebook profiles.

Both Conti’s owners agree that having an online presence has allowed them to expand their business in the last eight years, especially when it comes to cakes.

Back at Valencia Bakery, Eddy explains he normally gets calls from people who used to live in the neighborhood and have moved to other states. “But a couple of weeks ago, a gentleman called from Ireland because he had found us online and he wanted to order a birthday cake for his sister who lives in New York,” he says, pointing out they don’t ship cakes but do deliver in the city.

The bakery also has a Facebook account, but Eddy says the website by itself has given him better results. “These days, everyone is on the Internet,” he says, before the phone rings again.

Click here for more stories on the Digital Bronx.

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Bronx declared the unhealthiest county in New York

The Bronx ranked last in a study and that determined New York’s 62 counties healthiness measuring mortality rate, tobacco use, unsafe sex, diet and exercise.
According to the report published by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, “the percentage of adults in ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ shape in the Bronx is 10 percent higher than the statewide average of 16 percent” and 10 percent nationwide.
The county on average also had 8,139 premature deaths a year, 35 percent of adults Bronxites say they lack of social and emotional support compared to 14 percent nationally, and 63 percent of households are single-parent, 40 percentage points higher than the countrywide average.
The healthiest borough: Queens ranking 20th, followed by Manhattan (25th) and Staten Island (28th). Brooklyn ranked almost as badly as the Bronx at 58th. (CBS)

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