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State Department of Education threatens to close Kingsbridge charter school

The New York State Department of Education put the Kingsbridge Innovative Design Charter School, which opened seven months ago, in probation and threatened to close it because of fiscal mismanagement.
The school’s founder and executive director, Julio Cotto, denied the accusations and said he has been working with the state to solve the challenges they have faced as a new school.
According to the State, the school will be in probation until May 17 and will have to complete “a 16-point remedial action plan.” (The Wall Street Journal)

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Egyptian cobra was not the first would-be escapee

On Thursday, the Bronx Zoo announced that it had finally found its missing cobra. The escape of the poisonous Egyptian snake from its enclosure at the Reptile House (it was later found inside the building) drew international attention.  But it was not the first time that an animal attempted to find its way out of the zoo, and in some cases succeeded. The Bronx Ink noticed that The New York Times has faithfully documented plenty of colorful escape stories since the Bronx Zoo opened its doors in 1899. Here is  a list of 1o of those  famous zoo break-outs the newspaper chronicled (with photos to illustrate the species, not the actual escapee).

(Photo credit: Bruce McAdam/Flickr)

Mexican panther (1902)
A five-feet long Mexican panther, like the one pictured, got away from the facility known as the Bronx Zoological Park, spreading terror among the visitors and “in the neighborhood for miles around.” The panther interrupted several picnics, ate “sandwiches and a ham for lunch, but balks a pie” and walked around the Botanical Gardens. Although 12 zoo workers and several policemen were dispatched to catch the 7-month-old panther, the animal managed to jump into the Bronx River and swam away.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Snow leopard (1905)
Two years after its mate had escaped from the zoo, the only snow leopard left in the United States found its way out of its cage and “disappeared like a ghost,” the paper reported. The animal was found the next morning hiding in the basement of the lion’s house.

(AP Photo/Petar Petrov)

Cuban iguanas (1908)
A week after getting to the zoo, two four-feet -long Cuban iguanas escaped their cage at the reptile house causing panic among visitors. The newspaper described them as “the most terrifying looking of all the reptiles in the Bronx Zoo Park,” although they were not considered dangerous or poisonous. They were captured shortly after.

(AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Badger (1910)
Pete the Badger, considered “one of the ugliest specimens” in the zoo by The New York Times and famous for always getting out of its cage, caused commotion when he was almost killed after breaking in the house of Crazy Mike, the old Japanese bear. Zoo staff saved him after the bear had through him around several times.

Bassarisk (1916)
The ring-tailed raccoon-like creature named Loco was on the loose for two months before being re-captured by the staff. Its “period of freedom” coincided with the disappearance and killing of several birds. The disappearance of the birds led the keepers to set up traps, which ultimately lead to the capture of Loco.

(AP Photo/David J. Sheakley)

Canadian black bear (1920)
Black Prince, a 500-pound Canadian bear who used to be a house pet, escaped its cage by passing through the 20-foot iron fence that surrounded the zoo. After a night at large, Bronx Park rangers found him prowling along Gun Hill Road, not far from 204th Street. When he tried to run away, riflemen open fire and killed him.

Himalayan black bear (1921)
On the day that the zookeepers decided he was domesticated enough to be put with other bears, the young Himalayan black bear found its way out and wandered around the zoo. It was captured while attempting to get to the woods and it was resentto the bear’s house.

(AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)

Ape (1985)
Considered by police as “an escape artist,” a small gibbon escaped from the exhibit area and bit two visitors. It was captured shortly afterward and resent to his cage.

(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Birds (1995)
Thirty-three birds, most of them South American gulls and terns, flew away after the roof of the 19th-century aviary collapsed under the weight of foot of snow. Almost all of them were recovered, including an Inca tern that made it to a New Jersey driveway.

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Bronx Academy High School to DOE: Not us too!

Bronx high school superintendent Elena Papaliberios explained to Bronx Academy parents the proposal submitted by the DOE (Foto credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

By Clara Martinez Turco

Teachers and parents at the Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx were surprised by a last-minute proposal by the city’s Department of Education to close the school.

“I really wasn’t expecting they would come in and say we might close,” said Linda Butkowski, 52, a teacher of American studies at Bronx Academy and a representative of the United Federation of Teachers representative.

In a document dated March 3, the DOE proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and because “the school lacks the capacity to turn around quickly to better support student needs.” The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards and had a six-year graduation rate of 49 percent.

A new school administration took over in September and teachers say they thought the DOE would take into consideration the changes made since then.

“The school had an amazing turn around under the leadership of the new principal… Is almost as if it was a new school,” said Butkowski. Changes to this “transfer school,” which was opened in 2003 as an alternative for students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school, include trimester terms and the appointment of a faculty advocate for every student.

Last December, the New York State Department of Education identified the Bronx Academy as a “persistent lower achieving” school and gave it a year to implement a major transformation to turn around. State representatives later visited the school and said they would release in late April a report with their recommendations, said counselor Linda Vinecour.

However, the city’s DOE cited the identification of the school as an under achiever as one reason to close it.  “At the end of the day, Bronx Academy is not doing the job, and we feel it will not turn around and serve better the kids,” said spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, explaining that the DOE decisions are independent from the state. Both city and state departments of education were unavailable for further comments.

The proposal to close Bronx Academy comes after the city’s Panel for Education Policy voted to close 22 schools, ten of them in the Bronx.

During an informational meeting held at Bronx Academy on March 8, parents expressed their frustration with the proposal by city’s school officials. “It seems the decision has already been taken,” said one angry parent soon after the Bronx High School superintendent Elena Papaliberios explained the next steps in the school’s phase out pending approval by the Panel.

“I don’t agree with the closure because students need a school like this,” said Rosa Ramirez, 39, who enrolled her 16-year-old son, Jorge, in October after she said he had been bullied several times at his previous high school. Jorge said the school has helped him to stay on track. “A lot of us come here for a second chance to get our diploma,” he said.

Despite the shock caused by the proposal, students and faculty vowed to fight the phase out, Vinecour said.

On April 6, the Bronx Academy community will meet at the school to make the case against the closure. The meeting will be recorded and a copy of the recording shared among the members of the Panel for Education Policy, which will vote on April 28 on whether the phase out should proceed.

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UFT rejects bill that would end “last in, first out” policy

By Clara Martinez Turco

The United Federation of Teachers condemned a state Senate bill that would end the “last in, first out” policy, which requires that teachers be laid off by seniority.
“The proposed bill would send us back to the days before civil service protections, when people could be fired for being the wrong race or gender, too young or too old,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

The legislation, introduced Wednesday by Long Island Senator John Flanagan, would allow the Department of Education to fire teachers who have received unsatisfactory ratings in the last five years, who have been convicted of minor crimes or those who have a long list of absences.

“Under its terms, people who were accused—but never found guilty—of misconduct would find themselves on the chopping block,” said Mulgrew in a statement. The bill also targets teachers whose students have low scores and those who have failed to fulfill the certification requirements.

“Meanwhile, principals who have targeted certain teachers without even seeing their work would have a new way to force out employees they just don’t like,” said Mulgrew citing the example of Iris Blige, principal of Bronx’s Fordham High School of the Arts. According a DOE report, between 2007 and 2009, Blige ordered her assistant principals to give unsatisfactory ratings to those teachers she dislike. The DOE imposed a fine of $7,500 against Blige but did not fire her.  Blige has denied any wrongdoing.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to discuss the bill on Tuesday.

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[VIDEO] Bronx seniors go Wii

[VIDEO] Bronx seniors go Wii

By Ethan Frogget and Clara Martinez

Every Friday, a group of seniors gets together in the Bronx Library Center to bowl with the Nintendo Wii. The program is part of a citywide initiative launched by the New York Public Library system to bring new technologies to surrounding communities. Wii gaming is available in five other Bronx libraries and twelve centers in Manhattan and Staten Island.

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Protesters refuse to give up on Columbus High School

Protesters refuse to give up on Columbus High School

By Clara Martinez Turco

Mary Conway-Spiegel, founder of Partnership for Student Advocacy, asked the DOE to reconsider the conversion of Columbus High School as a charter (Photo Credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

Dozens of teachers and students of Christopher Columbus High School gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday night to oppose the Panel for Educational Policy’s decision to close the school. They were joined by several current and past public officials.

“It is critically important for Columbus High School to stay alive and to keeps its doors open,” said former New York Attorney General and former Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams while calling the Department of Education to reevaluate its decision.

The group also called authorities to reconsider an alternate plan to convert Columbus into a charter high school, a plan that was rejected in September by the State Education Department. Under the proposal, submitted by principal Lisa Fuentes in August, the school administration would take control and redesign the curriculum to better serve the needs of the community.

“We in the Bronx, more than in any other place, are impacted by schools that the Department of Education says they are failing,” said City Council Member and Columbus alumni James Vacca. Columbus, along with nine other schools in the Bronx, are set to phase out in September because of low performance in the past four years.

“The Department of Education has to look in the mirror… they have an opportunity to save a school whose tradition in the Pelham Parkway community and in the Bronx is without equal,” said Vacca. “Give us another look, we are worth saving and we want you  to save us.”

Representatives of the United Federation of Teachers, State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein and the Partnership for Student Advocacy group also expressed their support to the charter conversion plan.

As several students took the podium to oppose the school’s closure, 17-year-old senior Wendy Valladares said Columbus has always supported its students. “Many of us come from other countries, and Columbus has always welcomed us, even if we came in the middle of the school year,” she said.

According to DOE’s statistics, 69 percent of the 1,466 students who attended the school between 2008-2009 come from families whose yearly income is lower than $28,665. At least 20 percent of the students have limited English proficiency.

Columbus will be replaced by Bronxdale High School, which will open its doors in September. Although the new school is expected to serve the same community, it will be smaller and will only take 450 students.

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In vote, panel seals fate of six Bronx schools

In vote, panel seals fate of six Bronx schools

After a massive walkout at Brooklyn Tech High school to protest school closings, demonstrators displayed messages to the Panel for Educational Policy.

By Clara Martinez Turco

Vincent Malfetano, 61, a teacher at Christopher Columbus High School, waited more than five hours before he could offer “some advice” to Schools Chancellor Cathie Black during a boisterous meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy Thursday night.

“Columbus has its problems, but we’ve been opened for 70 years and graduated scholars for years in our building,” Malfetano said before a diminished crowd at Brooklyn Tech High School. “The school needs a change of leadership, there are five principles and there has been a poor management.”

But his words and a massive walkout staged by some 2,000 parents, teachers and students during the meeting, were not enough to prevent the panel from approving the closure of Columbus High School and nine other schools, five of them in the Bronx. Along with Columbus and Global Enterprise, the panel voted to close John F. Kennedy High School, Frederick Douglass Academy III Middle School, P.S. 102 and Performance Conservatory High School.

The building had a heavy police presence as a few hundred students briefly protested outside after the walkout. They marched around the block holding banners that read “closing is not the answer” and “save our schools,” but the protesters acknowledged that they already knew what the outcome was going to be.

By the time the panel started to vote, only 80 people remained in the auditorium. “Shame on you!” shouted a group of parents as the members approved the closings one by one.

The Department of Education cited  “substantial evidence” in closing Christopher Columbus. Spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the school has had received Cs and Ds in the last four report cards. “Ninety-nine percent of the schools in the borough are outperforming this high school,” he said.

The panel had already voted last year to phase out the school, but a lawsuit filed by the United Federation of Teachers prevented the Department of Education from closing it. The Manhattan Supreme Court found the city had violated the provisions of mayoral control by not properly assessing the impact that the closures would have in the community.

“We knew they’d do it again,” Malfetano said of the panel’s vote , in an interview after he addressed the group. “The lawsuit last year was just a procedural victory. It just said that Bloomberg did not follow the law properly, but he needs our buildings for other schools.”

According to the proposal presented by DOE’s Division of Portfolio Planning, two new schools will replace Columbus High School and Global Enterprise High School, which shares the same building and will also close. Starting in September, the outgoing schools will not accept new ninth graders and will be closed by 2014.

Meanwhile, the two new institutions would move into the Christopher Columbus Educational Campus, which since 2004 hosts Columbus High School and four other schools.

“They are going to cram these two schools into a building that already has three other schools, it’s going to be a zoo,” said Malfetano. “It’s so out of control, we don’t have a teacher’s room to sit in anymore, there’s no refrigerator to put your lunch in anymore. You don’t even know who to go to order supplies.”

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Bronx activists arrested at DOE protest

Five members of Sistas  & Brothas, the youth organizing arm of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, were arrested Monday night during a protest against the Department of Education’s plan to close 25 public schools across the city.
The protesters, which included Brooklyn Council Members Jumaane Williams and Charles Barron, made a human chain to block the sidewalk outside the DOE headquarters on Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan. [Bronx News Network]

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