Update - Partnership For ChangeBy Jose B. Rivera
The East Harlem Partnership For Change, a local Industrial Areas Foundation group, meet on June 14, 1999 at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church auditorium to discuss various issues. Among them were employment for the community, the drug problem, and education. Fr. James Brenan of St. Cecilia’s Parish lead the meeting.
Various speakers spoke about the employment issue. They mentioned that in the next few years 10 new hotels would be opening in Manhattan and that those who were skilled in that industry would obviously obtain employment. To that end it was announced that a hotel training seminar would be held on July 1, 1999 at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church auditorium. It was also announced that Congressman Charles Rangel committed over a million dollars for youth employment to the group.
A 23rd Precinct representative spoke to those assembled and said that better cooperation between the precinct and the partnership would help to curtail drug problems in the community.
When it came to education, the group pulled no punches. It was reported that Partnership representatives meet with Community School Board District # 4 Superintendent Evelyn Castro. The Partnership asked Ms. Castro to put all the principals in the district on a one year suspension and that all children in the district be at their grade level, also within one year. Ms. Castro obviously told them that it could not be done (i.e. laws, union contracts, etc…). The way the Partnership reported it, she simply said “No”.
The Partnership also reported that a new school was created called the “Life Science Secondary School”, sponsored by Mt. Sinai Hospital. The school is scheduled to open in September 1999. East Harlem children will make up %35 of the school population. Partnership speakers demanded that East Harlem children make up %100 of the population in the near future. The 100% population figure was also demanded of all East Harlem advanced schools.
Lastly, the Partnership declared a “State of Emergency” as it pertains to East Harlem schools, citing the importance of education to a community like ours. They obtained an appointment with New York City School Chancellor Rudy Crew on June 16th and will speak to him about education in the community as well as about Superintendent Castro. The partnership also called for a meeting on education to be held on October 25, 1999 at St. Cecilia’s Church, to educate 300 parents about the school system.
The last announcement of the night came from Partnership leader Fr. James Brenan. He announced that he was leaving St. Cecilia’s and being reassigned to another parish.
Employment; the Partnership has made some headway in the employment issue. They are right on track by combating unemployment with training. People also need to be aware of employment opportunities, and the Partnership is on the ball here too. The Partnership still needs to educate its member on what causes unemployment so that they are better equipped to deal with this issue.
Kudos to the Partnership on taking the lead on the drug issue by pin pointing problem areas and then working with the local precincts to deal with drug pushers. The Partnership need to better educate its members about this drugs, again, to enable its members to deal with this issue.
The Partnership is right in requesting that most East Harlem advanced schools be reserved for East Harlemites. Though it must be said that when St. Cecilia’s had a grammar school in the area, they did not follow their own advice. The issue they have with the Superintendent is faulty at best. There are numerous city laws and union contracts which forbid the Superintendent from suspending or putting a principal on probation without due cause and without due process. Due process laws are in place to protect everyone. Fr. Brenan and the leadership of the Partnership are aware of these laws and were just playing to the crowd in even asking Ms. Castro to put principals on probation. Unfortunately, most in the crowd do not know how the system works and therefore assume that Ms. Castro is not interested in improving education in East Harlem. This is dangerous and libelous!
The Partnership is also asking of the New York City public school system that which they do practice in the Catholic school system. This writer finds it very difficult to accept that a Catholic priest can leave so much truth out of encounter with the Superintendent. Superintendent Castro can only due what the law allows. Fr. Brenan knows that. She can not will district grades to improve, she can only due her best to make it happen. The Partnership fails miserably when it does not educate those at its meetings about how things really work. How systems work and how to improve a system. Instead the Partnership excites the crowd by being critical about all issues, but never educating them about how to get involved (i.e. running for school board, being on various community boards, etc.).
It seems the partnership is not so much interested in educating its members (parishioners) as it is in posturing and playing to the crowd. This is the biggest failing of this group. They look for small victories to “show” their members that something can be accomplished, but the members never really learn about how things are truly done.
It was no coincidence that the Partnership chose to meet with Chancellor Rudy Crew just as he was about to announce the firing of some superintendents. Other Superintendents were to be put on probation. Ms. Castro was not one of the Superintendents put on probation (as erroneously reported in local newspapers). But one would not put it past the Partnership to continue to use the news articles erroneously putting Ms. Castro on probation and then taking credit for it. This writer will continue to monitor this group, who has so much potential and the good intentions (but what do they say about good intentions?), but who has gotten community activism all wrong. If one had to categorize the Partnership is would have to be “Symbolism over Substance”.
This writer expects better from its neighborhood priests. Especially from the same priest and parish which taught him the importance of truth in our Christian lives. This writer does not expect his church to act like a cult.