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Sunday, July 02, 2006

District 15 Tidbits

A few little points that came up over the weekend in the continuing saga of District #15:

1. Superintendent John Fitzsimons published a letter in Lawrence Express. a monthly publication put out by the Lawrence Public schools. An excerpt:
Another pressing issue is the need to consolidate our schools. Our public school enrollment has declined, thus, a proactive plan to educate our students efficiently and more economically in less space seems warranted. However, the consolidation process is complicated, and once underway, permanent. So we must act wisely, with our students' educational, physical, and social needs, along with staff and faculty requirements, as priorities.
All quite reasonable. Of course, a while back, when I posted about the need to consolidate, I was met with comments that accused the private school community of having all sorts of ulterior motives beyond the obvious reality of dealing with schools that are operating at well below capacity. Maybe now that Dr. Fitzsimons has raised the issue in a reasonable and logical fashion, it can be discussed with some clarity and calmness, instead of the hysterical accusations that the private school community is looking to "take over" the public schools that have been the response to any airing of the issue in the past.

2. Outgoing Lawrence Teacher's Association president Stephen Clements just can't leave well enough alone, can he. I criticized him here after in a letter to the editor in the Nassau Herald, he essentially called the Lawrence High School Valedictorian Ilana Yurkiewicz a liar for speaking out against injustices she had witnessed in her schools. He was subsequently lambasted by several district residents in letters they wrote in response to his reprehensible statements. Well, this week he came back for more. He chose, apparently, to defend himself in the following letter:
To the Editor:

The letters written by Nathan Begelman, Michael Brenner and Abel Feldhammer in your June 15 edition are among the most distorted you have ever printed,. It is clear that their agenda is one of both personal and professional destruction, evidenced by what they purported that I wrote in my letter to the editor regarding Ilana Yurkeiwicz’s column. Their letters are a compilation of mistruths and distortions.

For example, Mr. Feldhammer charges that I "vilify" Ilana Yurkiewicz. This is what I wrote:

"Ilana Yurkiewicz is one of the finest students who has ever walked the halls of Lawrence high School. We are proud of her accomplishments and find joy in her success. However, even the best students sometimes make mistakes …"

For Feldhammer to use the word "vilifies" is outrageous. This is just one of the many examples of distortion that is written in the letters from these three men. I would urge your readers to re-read my letter regarding Ilana Yurkeiwicz’s column.

Frankly, it is ill advised that accusations of anti-Semitism are continually used in attempt to stifle legitimate debate in this community. The three men imply that the faculty of Lawrence is anti-Semitic and blind to the issues of race, religious, national origin and gender. That’s because they don’t know this outstanding faculty. And that’s because they don’t send their kids to the public schools. How can they make such outlandish charges against tan entire faculty based on the word of just one student? Parents who send their children to the public schools know that the entire public schools system has done a great deal to teach about diversity and tolerance.

Every time someone in this community disagrees with private school parents, some people such as these three men charge the rest of us with anti-Semitism. There is a real danger in that. It is like the "boy who cried wolf" because when anti-Semitism really does occur, people wont recognize it. And then, all of us, will be in trouble.

In the YMHA that I belong to in Commack, there is a sign that states that the word "community" ends with the word "unity." Perhaps these three men should examine the role they have played in creating division in this community which, when I started working here 33 years ago, was filled with peace, respect and harmony.

STEPHEN CLEMENTS

President

Lawrence Teachers Association

First of all, when he accuses three men that wrote letters against him of "crying wolf" on charges of anti-Semitism, he seems to forget that these men were not the originators of this charge. The charge came from a student, a remarkable student and person who he declined to treat as a reliable witness. He is so dismissive of her dependability that he says this:
How can they make such outlandish charges against an entire faculty based on the word of just one student?
The word of just one student? How many students' allegations does it take for Mr. Clements to pay attention? And this "just one student" is the selfsame student, mind you, that this month's issue of Lawrence Express lauds as being, in addition to Valedictorian:
One of twenty high school seniors nation-wide to join [the] All-Usa High School Academics First Team...a semifinalist in the Siemens Westinghouse Science competition and the Intel Science Search, along with the Yale Science and Engineering Award and a second place finish at both the New York State and Long Island Science and Engineering Fairs...a National Merit Finalist, Advanced Placement Scholar, and National Honor Society member...a cellist since age seven, a varsity gymnast, and a member and co-captain of the varsity badminton team.
Now, I don't personally think that a teacher ever has any right to publicly call a student a liar, but to dismiss the reports and allegations of this particularly stellar student is an especially galling action. And when he claims not to have "vilified" Ms. Yurkiewicz, it seems that he must not be fully apprised of the word's definition.

It is patently clear that though Mr. Clements is a teacher, he first and foremost views himself a union leader. That he prioritizes his union members before his students in every way is far too evident.

Good riddance to Mr. Clements. I couldn't be happier to see him go.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post.

Clements really as some nerve. As a parent of 2 children in LPS, I certainly hope his successor charts a new course.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Goy Guy said...

Dr Fitzsimmons says:

"Another pressing issue is the need to consolidate our schools. Our public school enrollment has declined, thus, a proactive plan to educate our students efficiently and more economically in less space seems warranted. However, the consolidation process is complicated, and once underway, permanent. So we must act wisely, with our students' educational, physical, and social needs, along with staff and faculty requirements, as priorities."

He is 100% right about almost everything here in my book. His remark that it is complicated is an understatement. Not that it's technically complicated. The district pays millions of dollars a year in salaries to many competant administrators and educators. I am quite sure they can draw up many different plans to arrange the students, staff buildings and other district resources more efficently, and they will all be fine plans.

The problem is that it's POLITICALLY complicated, on so many levels. As anyone who follows these things knows, even the smallest little redrawing of the lines in a school district always brings out protests in a community. Public school parents and students look at the school they attend as THEIR school. Just like people in private school do. People spend sometimes millions of dollars on a home because it's in the area where a particular school is. Not just the district but the specific school. Just because people know going in that things can possibly change doesn't mean everyone will like it.

Of course this kind of thing needs to be done from time to time everywhere. Even though people in areas like Long Island are fortunate to live in relatively small school districts where we have very high local control of our childrens education, when there are tough decisions to be made we have given control over many of those decisions to our professional administrators as hired by our elected officials. That's why they get the big bucks, to make hard, well thought out decisions and try to keep as many people as possible happy at the same time.

The only thing I take issue with in his statement is the fact that these things need to be permanent. After all, NOTHING is permanent. If the district is to expect to put any consolidation plan into effect, as they seem to need to, then certainly one of the issues to be addressed is how to be sure that the resources of the district are best used now AND in the future. By resources I mean real estate. You can hire and fire teachers. You can build a spanking new school in a year. But you can never get the property back if you sell it.

What to do with any schools that aren't currently in use affects everyone in the district. Selling a school to a real estate developer only benefits the developer. Any sales proceeds will be spent in short order, or if used to offset taxes for a year provides little benefit to the taxpayer. Selling the property to say a private school provides a benefit for the convenience of a few families in the area but again the benefit to the community as a whole is really nothing.

The Lawrence school district is bursting with kids and adults. The only way this important community resource can continue to benefit the community now AND in the distant future is if, in fact, it remains a community resource. Don't need the school? Don't use it. Rip that sucker down if that's what need doing. Then use the property for some other community use until if and when the district ever needs it again for a school. Ballfields, playgrounds, swimming pool, park, bird sanctuary, whatever. It doesn't even really matter.

This kind of forward thinking helps to satisfy the taxpayer, who would like to see as much efficiency as possible, and also helps to satisfy people who look past this years budget to the future of the district.

Okay, I'm tired so that's my opinion for now ;-)

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thw public school parents dont all like him either. he made big enemies by disparaging ilana.

9:41 AM  
Blogger PEACE...Dude said...

Clements is in total denial. He refuses to recognize that there may be an anti-semtic undercurrent to all this new animosity towards the "private school sector" or whatever the PC term used for Orthodox Jews in this neighborhood is.
He writes, "In the YMHA that I belong to in Commack..." The entire point of that sentence is NOT the lame cliché' that he quotes...something about community and unity blah blah balh...it's that he BELONGS to a YMHA...not a YMCA. See, how can he be anti-semetic if he belongs to a YMHA?

What's going on here is classic new-wave anti-semitism which may or may not have been aggravated by the recent school board elections and possibly this blog. If you go to any neo-nazi or white supremacist website, you will find, after the conspiracy theories (The "Jews" are responsible for 9/11, the "JEWS" are responsible for the Iraq war, the "JEWS" control all the money, The "JEWS" control Hollywood - oh wait, that one's True!) Anyway, after all that crap...the underlying theme is that supposedly, "if you complain or say anything negative, "THE JEWS" always call it "Anti-Semitism". It's a great little argument because it essentially negates or neutralizes any "real" anti-Semitism by dismissing it as "the boy who cried wolf".

2:47 PM  
Blogger PEACE...Dude said...

I've been a casual reader of this blog for a few months now and I've noticed a distinct change in the readership over the last few weeks. For better or for worse this blog is no longer exclusively traversed by the "Frum" (orthodox) crowd. There have been a number of commenters, specifically on the subject of the school board elections, that have been actively participating and are obviously regular visitors to this blog. This is the world wide web and there are no secrets here - this is not, and never was a private forum. On the surface I'd say it's only for the better. How can a forum for communication between two divergent groups be a bad thing, right? I mean, better communication breeds better understanding and better understanding leads to finding common ground and eventually to peace in our time right?
Well...MAYBE. That's certainly how it "should" be. But, so far this has NOT been the case.

Why? For one, emotions seem to be running HOT and High. In this type of emotional climate, anger and, dare a say, blind hate, tend to trump silly things like LOGIC and REASON. The comments, on BOTH sides (Though, in my admittedly biased opinion, I feel that one side is more guilty of this than the other), have been vile, sarcastic, biting and full of venom

In this situation, it is VERY difficult for either side to make convincing arguments or to effect any change because both sides are have dug in and are determined to "be right" regardless of whether or not their position makes any sense.

Another major problem with a forum like this - there is no control over who is saying what. Some of the biggest conflicts in History have been caused by some dolt saying the wrongs things and inflaming an already tense situation. Things are said here that do not represent the majority of the "orthodox" as we are so lovingly referred to as. (I don't mean things written by OM, which, for the most part, are measured and logical - though sometimes inflammatory as well)

One dope can write some stupid comment like "the goyim are idiots" and tick off countless people as well as create a tremendous amount of animosity towards the group as a whole. ("Goyim" by the way is NOT a pejorative slur as it is often inaccurately portrayed - It literally means "Nations" and refers to the "other" nations i.e. non-jewish. It's more of a descriptive term but to be fair, it's not the most polite way to refer to someone, kind of like saying "The Orthodox")

So, in my view, the blogosphere can be a terrific place to solve issues like this, but it can also wreak absolute havoc and destroy any chance of reconciliation.

2:49 PM  
Blogger PEACE...Dude said...

Of course, there’s also the natural and predictable transition from Blog to “Real Life” that was all but inevitable.
I personally have felt the change in the attitude of some of our neighbors recently. I have lived here in Cedarhurst for three years (Yes, I am one of those "new immigrants”...from BROOKLYN) and in the last month I have been cursed out from moving cars on THREE occasions while walking home from Shul on Shabbos. Not once in 3 years and then 3 times in a month. Venomous HATEFUL slurs...one diver went so far as to stop, in middle of the street about 100 feet from me to repeat, after I ignored the initial verbal onslaught, "Do you HEAR ME?! I Said I HATE YOU!!"

First of all, Mr. Clements, was THAT anti-Semitism? Or maybe I'm just making it up?
Has anyone else experienced this or has had anything else happen recently to contribute to an uneasy feeling of tension around here lately?
Also, anyone have any suggestions on how to begin to mend fences? I really believe that the vast majority of people on BOTH sides just want to work things out in a fair and respectful manner.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous The real opposition is... said...

Clements was an ass and everyone can agree we're glad to see him leave (THAT'S finally something the public and nonpublic community are in agreement with). Of course, the die-hard union reps of the LTA are the ones that disagree and are fueling the fire in this blog, trying to make us view other residents as the source of our failures, ignoring that our teachers are NOT getting the test scores despite the lowest student-teacher ratios, endless supplies and support.

LTA never said in negotiations that they were missing textbooks or equipment. Their only concern was pay, class size and benefits. So the current board handed them all that on a silver platter....and we're all fools if we expect the teachers to somehow improve the results.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Goy Guy said...

("Goyim" by the way is NOT a pejorative slur as it is often inaccurately portrayed - It literally means "Nations" and refers to the "other" nations i.e. non-jewish. It's more of a descriptive term but to be fair, it's not the most polite way to refer to someone, kind of like saying "The Orthodox")

I think "goyim", like "the Jews", is an expression that needs to be viewed in the context and manner in which it is used. Sometimes these expressions are used like a curse word, and in another context they may be innocent phrases, or even funny like in a joke.

Like this:

Two beggars are set up in the town square near a cathedral in Mexico. One has a cross on a chain around his neck, and the other a star of David.

The fellow with the cross has his cup filled with money by the passing tourists, while the guy with the star of David just gets looks, and has not even a peso.

After a while the bishop and one of his staff passes by, takes a look at the two men, and drops a few coins in the cup of the begger with the cross. He then turns to the other begger as they walk away and tells him 'You know, young man, if you would only see the light and allow Jesus into your life, I'm sure you would be more successful."

At this the begger with the star of David around his neck turns to the other one and says "Moshe! Can you believe the nerve of these goyim, telling us how to run our business?'

I'm sure someone will find offence in that, but I think its funny.


....one diver went so far as to stop, in middle of the street about 100 feet from me to repeat, after I ignored the initial verbal onslaught, "Do you HEAR ME?! I Said I HATE YOU!!"

THAT, on the other hand, is NOT funny.

I hope I'm driving by the next Shabbos that this happens. I won't be walking, like you, and when I catch up to them they'll be hearing a few choice words from this GOY ;-)

5:41 PM  
Blogger PEACE...Dude said...

Goy...Good joke!
I'm looking to mend fences in this neighborhood and humor and the ability to laugh at your own expense are great ways to break the ice.
I'd be glad to call you my friend...even if you ARE a goy...
:-)

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"LTA never said in negotiations that they were missing textbooks or equipment. Their only concern was pay, class size and benefits. So the current board handed them all that on a silver platter....and we're all fools if we expect the teachers to somehow improve the results."

Am I missing something ... were you a part of negotiations? I think if you look carefully at the contract . you would have to modify silver platter to lead plate .... or are you complaining about the contract because of the class size provision? All of educational research points to the importance of small class size in a child's education.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of course, there’s also the natural and predictable transition from Blog to “Real Life” that was all but inevitable.
I personally have felt the change in the attitude of some of our neighbors recently. I have lived here in Cedarhurst for three years (Yes, I am one of those "new immigrants”...from BROOKLYN) and in the last month I have been cursed out from moving cars on THREE occasions while walking home from Shul on Shabbos. Not once in 3 years and then 3 times in a month. Venomous HATEFUL slurs...one diver went so far as to stop, in middle of the street about 100 feet from me to repeat, after I ignored the initial verbal onslaught, "Do you HEAR ME?! I Said I HATE YOU!!"

so do I live here for almost four years ...and although not GOY but also driving on Shabbat (please note: NOT SHABBOS)...I believe that it it purely DANGEROUS, especially for those children in strollers, to be walking in the middle of the street and refusing to move to the side when the car passes by (not to mention that it is rude and disrespectful to others)...and I also must say that I never heard any of the unpleasant comments being made...by either side (although not all my NEIGHBORS will say hello to my family when they are passing by my house, especially on Shabbat)

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I missing something ... were you a part of negotiations? I think if you look carefully at the contract . you would have to modify silver platter to lead plate .... or are you complaining about the contract because of the class size provision? All of educational research points to the importance of small class size in a child's education.

Looks like the teachers are back. So what do the teachers think of Clements' behavior?

11:28 PM  
Blogger PEACE...Dude said...

Anon 9:09 - You are actually proof that this is not Anti-Semitism we are facing, but, rather it is anti-orthodox. There is a deep divide between the "secular" (jewish and non-jewish) and "religious" (in this case Orthodox Jews) in this neighborhood.
As with many culture clashes, the root problem here is misunderstanding due to cultural differences and lack of communication between to two communities.
I’m not sure if you were trying to be polite in your tone, but we could all hear your teeth grinding while reading your comments.
Unlike my friendly and productive exchange with Goy Guy, your comments are mean spirited and sarcastic.
Let’s break this down:
“so do I live here for almost four years ...and although not GOY but also driving on Shabbat (please note: NOT SHABBOS)…”
Although not a “Goy” but driving on Shabbat…means - by the way, not all “Jews” are religious wackos like you Orthodox…
“Please note: NOT SHABBOS”…means I’m not a “Brooklyn Jew” like you…

Then, you have the GALL to turn a true story about how hate is burgeoning in this area… into a discussion about walking in the street on ShabbOS? (I happen to be against walking in the street and talk to all my friends and family about the issue but that’s a completely different subject. There are VERY FEW people in this neighborhood who don’t move out of the way when a car is present. And, while not the best idea (See above), when you’re walking in a large group, in broad daylight safety is NOT really a concern - it’s not like taking a stroll on I-95 ok?)

How do you completely ignore a serious story like that and attempt to turn the whole thing upside-down? Simple. As I posted earlier today, “you people” (don’t like the sound of THAT do you?) no longer care about whether or not your position makes any logical sense…you just want to “be right”.

As to your last point about your (presumably orthodox) neighbors not saying hello to you “especially on Shabbat”. You got me there. I have no idea why your neighbors don’t say hi. I have a great relationship with all my neighbors including my Italian and even Muslim neighbor. There’s absolutely NOTHING anywhere that precludes an orthodox person from engaging their neighbor in friendly conversation. Quite the contrary, there are numerous mentions in Jewish law to befriend and insure good relationships with your neighbors. Maybe your neighbor is just shy?

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Looks like the teachers are back. So what do the teachers think of Clements' behavior?"

Will not discuss behavior with you BECAUSE THERE IS NO BEHAVIOR TO DISCUSS. There is ONLY AN EFFORT ON THE PART OF SOME RESPONDANTS TO MISINTERPRET WHAT MR. CLEMENTS SAID. ONE MUST QUESTION WHY THEY (YOU) FEEL THE NEED TO DO THAT ... TO CREATE CONTROVERSY ... TO WIDEN A RIFT ... TO DRAW ATTENTION AWAY FROM OTHER ISSUES???
MR. CLEMENTS IS TO BE CONGRATULATED FOR HIS MANY ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND PRAISED FOR HIS EFFORTS ON BEHALF OF THE CHILDREN AND TEACHERS. AND YES WHEN YOU PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF THE TEACHERS YOU ARE PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILDREN.
LET'S SEE ... WHO WILL YOU BLAME NEXT YEAR FOR ALL THE ILLS OF THE DISTRICT????

8:40 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...


Will not discuss behavior with you BECAUSE THERE IS NO BEHAVIOR TO DISCUSS. There is ONLY AN EFFORT ON THE PART OF SOME RESPONDANTS TO MISINTERPRET WHAT MR. CLEMENTS SAID. ONE MUST QUESTION WHY THEY (YOU) FEEL THE NEED TO DO THAT ... TO CREATE CONTROVERSY ... TO WIDEN A RIFT ... TO DRAW ATTENTION AWAY FROM OTHER ISSUES???


Hard to misinterpret Mr. Clements words when he so kindly puts them in writing two times for us. It was so accommodating of him to discredit Ms. Yurkiewicz not once - but twice!

8:48 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

MR. CLEMENTS IS TO BE CONGRATULATED FOR HIS MANY ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND PRAISED FOR HIS EFFORTS ON BEHALF OF THE CHILDREN AND TEACHERS. AND YES WHEN YOU PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF THE TEACHERS YOU ARE PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILDREN.

Well, no. It is absolutely possible to protect the rights of both - but Mr. Clements is not doing so. He is protecting the teachers by attempting to discredit a student. When he does that, he is no longer displaying dual loyalty, but putting the good of the teachers before the good of the students.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to PEACE...DUDE:

I appologize, but you did get me all wrong. I was not sarcastic and definately I did not try to be mean...

you are rigth about big groups of people, but what I am talking about are really moms with three kids (one in a stroller) trying to get to synagogue. It's good to know that even you notice the importance of sidewalk use...

And who do you mean by "YOU PEOPLE" because I am a little confused now...I am jewish but I am not part of "YOU PEOPLE"...where and how does one draw the line.

BTW: your comments are very negative. And I trully hope that you don't consider yourself a wacko. That would be very sad.

And it's OK to write that someone screamed at the walker in the middle of the street but it's not OK to present the other side of the picture??? It's not about being rigth.

12:08 PM  
Blogger PEACE...Dude said...

HAPPY 4th everybody! Yes, even "The Orthodox" celebrate Independence Day. Well at least some of us do!
:-)

3:40 PM  
Anonymous benshimon said...

Hello, I have followed the drama of the "public versus private" community from its begining in the pages of the Five Towns Jewish Times, Jewish Star and Nassau Herald. I thought that mistakes were made in how the ongoing story was being reported by supporters and reporters for each "side." That was then. We have now a new era and the potential to make the school board act in the best interests of the students, teachers and the whole community. This what the last election gave us. One of the incumbent school board members has said that the public school community is "petrified" of what is going to happen now with private school control of the school board. Fear of the unknown. The Torah gives every Jew, regardless of their own personal belief, the directive to be a Kingdom of Priests and a light to the nations of the world (the Goyim).

Lawrence school district is now the first school district in the history of the USA to have a majority representing Orthodox Jews (I am not counting Monroe, NY.) I think it is inevitable that there be a discussion of what that could mean in both philosophical and practical terms in the relationship between "religious" and "not religious Jews, between " religious Jews and the Gentiles," and among Jews as a whole and the Gentiles--in the five towns--and beyond.

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7:24 PM  

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