22 The Queens Courier • july 18, 2013 for breaking news visit www.queenscourier.com 5Pointz plans changed BY ANGY ALTAMIRANO firstname.lastname@example.org After receiving harsh disapproval from the Long Island City community, the developers who plan to turn the graffiti mecca known as 5Pointz into two high-rise apartment buildings have decided to make changes to their proposal. According to Joseph Conley, chair of Community Board (CB) 2, G&M Realty’s plan has been altered to include about 78 affordable housing units, an addition of 10,000 square feet to the initial 2,000 square feet planned for artists’ studios and community use of the parking garage for below-market rates. Conley said the changes came after Jerry Wolkoff, whose family has owned the property for the past 40 years, heard of the community’s vociferous objections Van Buren co-location met with protest BY MELISA CHAN email@example.com The city’s plans to add another school within a struggling Queens Village institution is a “knife in the back” to the community, elected officials said. “This is the wrong plan at the wrong time, in the wrong place, at the wrong school,” said Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik. The Department of Education (DOE) has proposed adding a small district high school inside Martin Van Buren High School. The two schools would share the 230- 17 Hillside Avenue building — including its gym, cafeteria and auditorium — in a move increasingly known as co-location. “We’ve been nationally recognized for our visionary new school models, and this new option replicates those that are in extraordinarily high demand across the city,” said DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia. “This new school will deliver great outcomes for neighborhood students,” Puglia added. “Parents in this community are clamoring for, and will continue to demand, more high quality options, and we’re going to keep delivering them.” Queens lawmakers say the new school would eliminate 500 existing seats at Van Buren. They were told the DOE is shooting for a 2014 opening, though the city would have to hold a public hearing beforehand. “Reducing the seats at Martin Van Buren High School is a slap in the face to our community, which has fought to turn around the school,” said Assemblymember David Weprin. “Now is not the time for the outgoing administration to make this kind of destructive decision.” Van Buren received a C in the DOE’s most recent progress report, which is based on student progress toward graduation, performance on standardized tests, coursework and student attendance. The school improved a full letter grade from the year before. There is also a new principal, Sam Sochet, who replaced Marilyn Shevell last June. Elected officials said morale and grades have been improving under Sochet. The school was also acknowledged as “developing” during last year’s DOE evaluation, a step above the failing grade “underdeveloped.” “What the DOE is proposing could undo all of the progress the administration and teachers have made so far,” said Councilmember Mark Weprin. “Creating a new school will cost millions and may threaten the revitalization of our neighborhood school.” The councilmember said the community was kept out of the loop during the DOE’s “whisper campaign” to co-locate the school. He said he caught wind of the plans in June. “In the middle of the night, we get a call saying the DOE is looking to colocate another school within this building, after all the effort that has been put in to try to fix this school,” he said. Washington Sanchez, a representative for the United Federation of Teachers, called the move a “sneak co-location.” “They just want to do it in the heat of the summer, behind closed doors,” he said. State Senator Tony Avella said the school was on the right track in October 2011 when Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott “did a tour of the school and made all sorts of promises to turn this thing around.” “Now all of a sudden we get the knife in the back, and that’s what this is,” Avella said. “They’re stabbing us in the back.” The city’s educational impact statement of the new school is expected to be released late August. Public hearings are likely to be scheduled soon after. Nearly 3,000 students from ninth to twelfth grade attend Van Buren. “Changing the school is a big mistake,” said rising senior Harsimranjeet Singh. “There have been a lot of new programs. Grades are going higher now. Progress will decline.” THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan Queens lawmakers rallied against the city’s plans to co-locate another institution at Martin Van Buren High School. to the initial plan. The new plan also includes the installation of art panels on the street to continue to display artists’ works. There will also be a program to curate the works and establish a community advisory group to work with CB 2 before, during and after construction. “He wanted to make sure, before he moves forward, that he came back and met with a group of people to talk about how he could reestablish connections and solidify connection with the community he’s been a part of for 40 years,” said Conley. “The important part is that it shows his concern about the community.” The Wolkoffs intend to demolish the graffiti-covered warehouse on Jackson Avenue and Davis Street and construct two apartment towers there. One would reach 47 stories and the other 41 stories, with close to 1,000 rental apartments, 30,000 square feet of outdoor public space and 50,000 square feet of retail space between them. CB 2 voted against the owners’ land use application in June. However, constructing the towers is within their rights. The Wolkoffs are continuing their application to the Department of City Planning to build to larger dimensions than allowed by current zoning rules. “Our vote does not change,” said Conley. “It’s not a question that he will do a bait-and-switch. He will be obligated to do what he said as he goes forward. Mr. Wolkoff immediately made the changes without hesitations. It expresses his willingness to work with the community.” David Wolkoff previously told The Courier that his family has and will continue to listen to what the community has to say. “We had always taken into consideration what the community wants,” he said. However, according to Marie Cecile Flageul, a spokesperson for 5Pointz and an event planner, artists were not consulted in the recent changes to the Wolkoffs’ proposal. “5Pointz is not included in the plan,” said Flageul. “The extra space will not be given to any of the 5Pointz collective. We wished the community board would have consulted us before saying the changes are satisfactory.” On Wednesday, July 17 Borough President Helen Marshall announced she approved the Wolkoffs’ land use application. The application will be reviewed by the City Planning Commission, the City Council and finally the mayor. THREE FILE DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS AGAINST ELMHURST PRINCIPAL BY ANGY ALTAMIRANO firstname.lastname@example.org Alleged racist comments by an Elmhurst principal have left three teachers without jobs, with one deciding to leave the education system for good. Lisa-Erika James, a tenured theater teacher, Heather Hightower, an ESL-science teacher, and John Flanagan, a Spanish teacher from Pan American International High School have filed a discrimination claim with the Department of Education (DOE)’s Office of Equal Opportunity against Principal Minerva Zanca. According to details released by Assistant Principal Anthony Riccardo — who is also filing a harassment claim against Zanca — the principal allegedly referred to Hightower as looking like a “gorilla in a sweater” and having “nappy hair” and said Flanagan had “big lips” during post-observation conferences this past school year. Riccardo also said that in various cases, Zanca insisted on giving both teachers unsatisfactory grades before observing class lessons. “This whole experience has made me question whether or not I want to stay in a system that is designed to treat people with such malicious intent,” said Riccardo. “I am completely sickened by the unethical behavior my fellow colleague has displayed and I believe this to be a truly sad time to be an administrator in a NYC public school.” According to Flanagan’s complaint, while there are eight untenured teachers out of a total of 27, both he and Hightower are the only African American untenured teachers. The complaint also states Flanagan and Hightower were the only ones that Zanca did not recommended for tenure. “Just how you the DOE are very critical with teachers in New York City, you have to be with administrators,” said Kevin Powell, president of BK Nation, a nonprofit organization that is working with the teachers on this case. “No form of discrimination should be allowed. They’re not activists — they’re teachers. They didn’t want to be in this. They had to say something.” According to Powell, Hightower has decided to completely leave teaching and will pursue another career path. “The most egregious act is that Zanca is allowed to run a school where many of the children are of Afro-Latino descent,” James said in her complaint. “And her hurtful racial epithets have been thrown around with no recourse or consequences.” James said she was hired to create a theater program for the high school by former principal Marcella Barros, but alleges the program was then cut by Zanca because she is African American. “It is abundantly clear that Mrs. Zanca has done everything in her power to get rid of every African American teacher on this staff,” said James. The teachers, along with Powell and other supporters, rallied in front of the DOE on July 8 to call for authorities to investigate the case. A petition on www.change.org to fire Zanca had gathered 1,332 signatures as of press time. Zanca could not be reached and it was unclear as of press time whether she had acquired legal representation. The DOE said the complaints are under investigation.
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