Friday, February 1, 2019

Community Organizing Led by Love

For years, it had become known that Brooklyn Community Board 9 (CB 9) meetings could become contentious. Some board members and residents were dissatisfied with how the district manager Pearl Miles carried out her responsibilities. The struggle for control of the community board and the community itself came to a boiling point when an environmental assessment statement for the rezoning of Empire Boulevard was submitted to the community district office, December 2013 by 529 Empire Realty Corporation (prepared by Philip Habib and Associates and Sandstone Environmental Associates). A number of high rise residential buildings were being constructed on Flatbush Avenue. The future buildings would cast long shadows and would be priced for upper income households; however be considered affordable. Affordability is based on the area median income. Rather, than the AMI being based on the five boroughs, the AMI includes the five boroughs, Long Island and the lower five counties of upstate New York.

Community members had been opposed to the high rise construction on Flatbush Avenue. This latest rezoning request suggested that Prospect-Lefferts Garden and Prospect Park would experience higher population density, changes in architecture, and changes in who lived in the area. Rather than acquiesce to the plan, the people of the community banded together to fight against Empire Boulevard’s rezoning. One group, Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) would emerge as a people’s movement that city government would concede to. One tactic employed was taping CB 9 committee and general meetings. The group also made an alliance with Tom Angotti, then, Chair of Hunter College’s Urban Planning Department. The following is a Q & A with Alicia Boyd one of MTOPP’s key leaders.

1) Who coined the name Movement to Protect the People and from what ought the people be protected?
A small group of us coined it. We began the fight to stop the rezoning of the community. We came together to create the name. We realized that it was going to take a movement to protect this community and by doing so we would be protecting the people, not just the physical land.

2) What event ignited your community preservation fire? It was the first out of scale development that was going up along the perimeter of Prospect Park. We wanted to stop this as-of-right development that had almost 100% funding from the State and Federal governments. But we were very late in the game and almost all of the deals had been done by the time we even knew about it. I had wanted to protect Prospect Park from the visual intrusion and I knew that other developments would be coming.
However, during that fight I found out that a serious rezoning was being planned to change my actual backyard into a tall 20- or 30-story building along Empire Blvd. I knew this type of development would be detrimental not only to my home and my neighbors’ but that we would lose the people through a massive amount of displacement. I couldn’t image living in my community, without black people around me, so I promised to protect the residents in this community, both tenants and homeowners.

3) What does it take to activate residents to do something about the displacement taking place in their communities? It takes a lot of effort and energy. It takes educating people, showing them that they have power to do something.  And that organizing and resisting can make a difference. Too often people say, “Oh, there is nothing you can do,” but we have shown that it is not true. We are powerful; we just have to use that power in a focused and concentrated way!

4) What is your assessment of MTOPP's preservation efforts? What tactics does MTOPP use? We have been quite successful at preserving the community. We have stopped a major rezoning process from happening--where all of our avenues were being planned to have seriously tall skyscrapers and we have been able to protect the public assets such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park from development. Since we began our fight, there has not been another major development executed.

We have several strategies that we employ. Education, research, calling out our local politicians, organizing people, attending and getting involved in the local community boards where rezoning requests are submitted, uncovering corruption at the local community board, filing lawsuits to stop illegal behavior, filing Freedom of Information Act requests to find out what is being planned behind closed doors, and working with other organizations and groups that are fighting gentrification and displacement.

5) Who do you point to as your mentor? Is there a school or institute that you enrolled in to learn housing rights, community preservation? No I don’t have a mentor. All of my work has been done as a hand-on-activist. I have been very grateful to the information and knowledge that I have received from a lot of sources, such as Professor Angotti who has schooled me in rezoning laws, former Councilman Charles Barron who told me how to make local politicians accountable to the public, and of course, my fellow activists in the field--learning from their successes and failures.

6) Will you please name the organizations that have joined with MTOPP?  Below is a list of organizations that MTOPP has worked with from time to time, on different projects both in Brooklyn and citywide: BAN (Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network), The Sullivan-Stoddard-Ludlum Block Association, FLAC (Flower Lovers Against Corruption), 320 Sterling St Tenant Association, 300 Sterling St Tenant Association, B&W Sterling St Block Association, Washington Avenue Tenant Association, 901 Washington Avenue Tenant Association, Defend Public Libraries, Chinatown Working Group, and more.

7) What is/are the current issues that MTOPP is dealing with? We just won a battle with a developer who wanted to rezone three blocks of a height-restricted zone along the perimeter of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The developers have promised to come back when they can get the support of the local politicians. In other words: when it is not an election year. So, we need to stay on top of this issue and prepare for when they do come back.
We need to address the issue during an election year, when it comes to our local councilperson Laurie Cumbo because she is clearly a pro developer and is only considering not doing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden deal because of her desire to get re-elected. She has stated she is not a career politician and so we are concerned that if she is re-elected, she will use the last two years in office to line her pocket with donations to her MOCADA museum at the expense of the people.
We also have four lawsuits pending in the courts that need to be answered! We continue to face illegal behavior by the Community Board to help this community become rezoned and so we continue to focus on uncovering the corruption that still exists at Community Board 9 and fight in the courts for a more democratic process, where a community board acts like an advocate of the community and not a rubber stamp of developers and politicians who are in bed with them.

8) MTOPP has the 12 Demands on a website. Have these demands been sent to any organization or government official? If yes, who received it and what is his response? Those demands actually come from BAN of which I am one of the main organizers. Yes, it has been sent to elected officials and in fact several of the demands have been met and thus, we are constantly updating it to reflect what we still need to do.
For the most part, the elected officials simply ignored the demands and a few agreed with some of them. For example, We met Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (AD 30) just a few weeks ago about our demand to make the Area Median Income (AMI) that is used for the “affordable” category to be based upon the local AMI, using the zip codes and not the federal government’s AMI which continues to be discriminatory to us. Assemblyman Barnwell wants to propose a bill in Albany to use the AMI of the local area.

9) As the saying goes, "No woman is an island." Who do you count as your collaborators? My neighbors, my friends, even my enemies have been instrumental. In fact, some of my enemies have become my friends as the fight has gotten to other areas of the community and onto their backyards. I count the people in my community, the people who thank me and give money to us, the people who do our research; and who cheer us on. We have a lot of people, a lot of allies, and we continue to be thankful to all of them, because without them this would not be a movement! Most importantly is the members of my group, who have stayed strong and committed to this movement from day one!

10) If you have a statement that you want to express, please do so now: One of the most important things is to believe that we are powerful and that we can affect change. That power isn’t about money; it is about the belief that each and everyone one of us can make a difference. That there are forces that we can’t see but are helping, supporting, and directing our actions and that wrongs will be righted. This is the force of love and by using this energy; we can continue to protect the 200,000 people who live in our community!

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Equality for Flatbush, Turning the Corner on Gentrification

It is Imani Keith Henry who maintains the stamina to lead two social change organizations: Equality for Flatbush (E4F) and Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN). E4F’s tagline is “Before It’s Gone, Take It Back.” It asks community residents to do more to hold onto their neighborhoods now, rather than face the insult of loss of a home base.

This grassroots organization does not have a central office. Rather, the E4F volunteers, including Imani, work from their homes, coffee shops, and other places to carry out the mission. Imagine sitting in Tugboat Tea Room on Flatbush Avenue and casually glance at someone’s laptop screen to read a snatch of a memo about a recent demonstration. This writer is doing his or her part to stabilize a community.

Formed June, 2013, the organization describes itself “as a people of color-led multinational grassroots organization that does anti-police repression, affordable housing, and anti-gentrification organizing in the Flatbush and East Flatbush communities of Brooklyn, NY.” The term “multi-national grassroots organization” may suggest that E4F involves itself in international affairs or has affinity groups in different nations. However, “multi-national” is used to mean that the volunteer members come from various cultures or that the group is multicultural.

Addressing police repression, housing affordability and gentrification is done through 12 campaigns that include B4G Tenant Harassment Documentation Team, The Empire Study Group, Real Estate Watch, Dollar Van and Cab Driver Solidarity Campaign, and the Rapid Response Fund that gives bail. This group also is concerned about longstanding viable business staying in place. Recently, E4F staged a successful demonstration on behalf of Errol’s Bakery. The business owner had received notice that his lease would not be renewed.

It appears that the Funders for Justice’s web portal, ( wherein E4F is included, may shape E4F strategies. This web site’s Analysis and Reports section contains papers on police brutality, racial justice, instructions to execute mapping projects, transformative campaigns, and establishing rapid response funds.

Henry holds a MSW and MPA from NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Therefore, one would anticipate him being a change agent that uses transformative collaboration and on the look-out for points of agreement during negotiations. His organization fulfills the needs of those who have fallen through the civil cracks. Henry explains:

Across the board, every single campaign we have worked on--tenants, business owners, etc all have said they have gotten more results through E4F than they have had in the past. Many have already tried to work governmental agencies, legal non profits, merchant associations, etc.

We're just not for the status quo, or for photo ops or for the accolades. We are here to fight and win. That is our goal: To keep our people in Brooklyn and not be murdered by the police. That is the work of E4F.

In review of Association for Neighborhood Housing Developers (ANHD) membership, Neither Equality for Flatbush or Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) is currently counted in the membership, though BAN member group UPROSE is an ANHD member. Given many ANHD member agencies use similar social activism such as staging that E4F deploys, demonstrations, leading marches, organizing block watches, sponsoring street social justice performances and public arts, perhaps E4F coalesce with ANHD membership..

E4F can be commended for drawing a body of supporters and co-operators to itself. Its Facebook page has 3,012 likes. The rapid response fund has paid the bail for a number of people. Community residents have come to court to bear witness to trial proceedings. In sum, E4F significantly contributes to community adhesiveness.

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NYC’s Uneven Spread of Needed Homeless Shelters

One Homeless Shelter with Many Beds

New York City gets kudos for its services to the homeless. There are temporary emergency shelters operated by the City of New York and those managed by nonprofits. Apparently, the City’s homeless services are so exceptional that one male client of Pamoja House explained to this reporter some shelters in New Jersey release clients with their belongings and a one-way MetroCard. Truth or a joke, clients in family and adult homeless shelters hail from New York City neighborhoods, various States, and nations. Fast paced New Yorkers have big hearts. There are some neighborhoods inhabited by people with unusually big hearts because these neighborhoods get the bulk of homeless shelters and services.

Brooklyn Community Board #8 is one such ‘big-hearted’ community. It has 17 shelters. A shelter for homeless seniors was due to open at 1173 Bergen Street. Petitioners Rebirth of Bergen Street Block Association, Dean Street Block Association and 28 individuals went against NYC Department of Homeless Services, CORE SERVICES GROUP, INC, and CSN, LP (the owners of 1173 Bergen Street) to petition the Kings County Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order “to stay the City from opening a 104-bed men’s shelter. Justice Paul Wooten issued the order on March 24, 2017. The petitioners’ grounds were that “their neighborhood is already overburdened and saturated with homeless shelters and that DHS failed to conduct a Fair Share review in accordance with the Fair Share Criteria.” Justice Levine extended the order March 28, 2017, “until the Court has had an opportunity to review the Fair Share Analysis ("Analysis") submitted by the respondent City of New York ("City") as well as forthcoming legal papers.”

From a study of ACRIS, 1173 Bergen Street (Block 1214 Lot 76) has passed through several hands since 2006. Previous owners include 720 Livonia Ave Realty Corp., Bergen LLC, City of NY, Crown Heights North Historic District, Metro Co., and now the property of CSN Partners LP, since November 20, 2014. However, shortly after CSN Partners LP purchased it, the business got involved in flipping the property between itself and 1802304 Alberta, Ltd and Arnav Industries Inc. Profit Sharing Plan & Trust. For these businesses, it is a matter of dollars and cents; for the community it is a matter of home-“Home stable Home”. CSN Partners, LP is related to 20 other companies whose names begin with “CSN”.

While the two Kings County Supreme Court Justices see the validity of completing Fair Share Analysis, other quarters believe the community folks are callous to homeless people’s plight. After all, a shelter designated for seniors would be a relief to those aged 60 years or more. Male adult shelters can be hard for the 18 - 22 years of age cohort to exist in and same for the elderly in terms of verbal and physical threats of harm.

Adem Bunkeddeko, a North Crown Heights resident and Brooklyn Community Board 8 member, views the shelter controversy within the context of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s February 28, 2017 announcement of “the City Plan”. The City Plan is a homeless services plan. The Mayor intends to “open 90 shelters, while cutting the number of facilities by 45%; eliminating “cluster” apartments by 2021; and stop using commercial hotels by 2023.” Critics of City Plan contend it requires more details for its feasibility. As the old commercial tag line goes, some people ask, “Where’s the beef?” What cannot be disregarded is the cost to New York in keeping the homeless in commercial hotels. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer issued DHS Commercial Hotel Summary, December 14, 2016 and DHS Commercial Hotel Update, April 17, 2017. The “Update” reveals:
·         Nearly 347,000 rooms were booked between November 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017
·         The cost for that period was $65.2 million.

“I strongly believe we need to build shelters. There are folks who need dedicated shelters to stabilize their lives. I view it as a social justice issue. On the other hand, Crown Heights is overloaded. I’m not sure whether Crown Heights is shouldering more than its fair share”, opines Adem Bunkeddeko” Regarding City Plan Bunkeddeko said ”The proposal, as currently presented, does not seem fair  nor transparent. There are 90 proposed shelters but the public has been informed about only five of them—three are in the Crown Heights area. One of the three is in operation in Prospect Heights. Without a full understanding of all 90 sites, it is unfair to go forward with the plan. The public needs to see the whole picture.”

It is a fact that Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan bear the load of homeless shelters. Queens and Staten Island go lightly. While the NYC Comptroller, John Liu issued Down and Out: How New York City Places Its Homeless Shelters, May 2013. This report used 2011 shelter data from the Department of Homeless Services which revealed:
·         Bronx had 148 homeless shelters, primarily sited in CB 2, CB 3, CB 4, CB 5, CB 6 and CB 12
·         Brooklyn had 127, primarily sited in CB 3, CB 8, CB 9, CB 14, CB 16, and CB 17
·         Manhattan had 74, primarily sited in CB 3, CB 10, and CB 11
·         Queens had 15, primarily sited in CB 12
·         Staten Island had 6, primarily sited in Community Board 1
·         In 2013, New York City had a homeless population of 51,000. By 2016, the population grew to 60,000 homeless people.

It is these concentrations of homeless shelters and services that disturb New Yorkers that reside in these community boards. The public questions how does the application of the eight Fair Share Criteria result in, for example, Brooklyn Community Board #3 having 25 shelters and #8 having 17 shelters but Brooklyn Community Boards #10 and #12 do not have shelters? Is it time that the Fair Share Criteria be revised? The last revision occurred in 1998 during Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s administration and Joseph Rose was City Planning’s Director.

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Commuter Vans Get More Legitimate

The Driver Giving Change to the Passenger

Every day thousands of New Yorkers board commuter vans and buses to get to their destinations. The rides may be smooth or the rides may be nerve-racking. Most drivers play the radio for the passengers’ enjoyment, while others entertain passengers with the latest movies or music videos. For the most part the drivers are men. Every now and then, passengers are greeted by a woman behind the wheel.

The drivers may be independent van owners or they are associated with a particular van line. In Brooklyn, the licensed van lines include Alexis Van Lines, Black Street Van Lines, Brooklyn Van Lines, Ace VIP Transportation, and Royal Rose Transportation. Van lines in Queens specify the neighborhoods that are served. For example, Flushing is served in part by G & E Express, Inc. Jamaica is served by Ricketts’ Community Transportation Systems. Rosedale is served in part by Scarlet Girl Van Lines. Confidence Transportation serves Elmont. There are 54 TLC licensed van lines that serve Brooklyn and Queens. There are at least two serving the Bronx, 12 serving Manhattan and four serving Staten Island.

Some issues that tarnish this industry are rogue commuter van drivers that are not licensed; commuter van drivers that are very lax in the upkeep of their vehicles, and reckless commuter van drivers. These issues may support the use of the expression “dollar vans”. However, the field now includes touring buses and the price of the ride is $2.00 which will increase to $3.00, concurrent to the MTA transit increase. This industry turned a corner January 25, 2017. In City Hall’s Blue Room, Mayor Bill DeBlasio chaired a hearing on 14 pieces of legislation of which three, Int. No. 570-A, Int. No. 860-A, and Int. No. 861-A, are classified as Commuter Van Reform Bills which deal squarely with more regulations for commuter van operations in the five boroughs. Those present to relish the moment were Leroy Morrison, owner of Alexis Van Lines; Winston Williams, owner of Black Street Van Lines; and Hector Ricketts, owner of Community Transportation Systems, Inc.

Mayor DeBlasio informed the audience that the legislation would not be signed that day. “The City of New York has 30 days to have them signed or they will be executed into law automatically”. The Mayor estimated “the signing occurring within two weeks”.

After reading the law classifications and numbers for the 14 pieces of legislation, the Mayor moved into the hearing. Hector Ricketts was first to talk. His testimony addressed the need for the safety of the vehicles and the driving habits of van drivers. He also asserted “The City will call commuter vans when we [New Yorkers] are in crisis. When it is over, you forget about us [van drivers]. Thanks to 

Nick Smith and his staff and the Mayor and his staff for working with them to finally have the vans come out into the light.” Nick Smith is the Deputy Chief of Staff for CM Jumaane Williams, CD 45. Smith is credited for finalizing the bills’ language. He worked closely on this project in order to gain traction for the bills and advocated for the bills within City Hall.

Following Ricketts was Leroy Morrison who said, “For years it has been a situation of the City using commuter van lines when the MTA is on strike or there are floods or other bad weather conditions. But once the situation is resolved, we were put back in the shadows. But today is our day. Van lines are coming out of the dark and into the light finally.”

It is the offices of CM Jumaane Williams (CD 45, Brooklyn) Chair of the Transportation Committee and CM Daneek Miller (CD 27, Queens) that penned the bills’ language and got them passed through the City Council. Int. No. 570-A “stops the practice of recording the requests for trips, services, and passenger manifests.” Int. No. 860-A directs the “Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) to limit commuter van licenses to 735 unless an annual TLC study of van safety and public demand indicates otherwise.” Int. No. 861-A deals with the penalties for operating an unlicensed commuter van: [Such] operation is punishable by a fine between $1,000 and $2,000 and/or up to 60 days of imprisonment. Minimum civil penalties would increase to the following intervals: $1,000 - $3,000 for the first offense; and $2,000 - $4,000 for subsequent offenses within two years.”

Another instrumental player in this legislative game is Phillip Hom, Special Counsel at Windels Marx. Hom’s specialties are ground transportation and government relations. He “prepares clients to comply with complex legal and regulatory framework overseen by taxi and limousine regulators and public agencies.”

The sense of victory and accomplishment were apparent for Ricketts, Morrison, and Williams. Hector Ricketts is called “the father of commuter vans”. He not only operates Community Transportation Systems but is a consultant to motor coach, limousine, school bus, and ambulette drivers. Winston Williams is a quiet leader, preferring to give the floor to more vocal advocates. Leroy Morrison is the consummate booster. This reporter met the three men while riding a commuter van the afternoon of the hearing. Morrison made other passengers aware of how vans were finally coming out of the dark and into the light of day. Possibly, the frequent reference to “the light of day” has to do with local authority getting active in stopping vans to check licenses.

Also present at the hearing was Alexis Van Line’s name sake. In 1997, Morrison shut down Pebbles Transportation to operate Alexis Van Lines. This business is named after his daughter Alexis. Alexis Morrison has not taken up the family business. Ms. Morrison attended the hearing to cheer her father. She says, “My father has a passion for transportation.”

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Are the Teacher or School Leader Assessments H E D or I?

As of the 2012/13 school year, New York State had 4, 822 public schools operating within 950 districts that utilized 207,060 teachers for 2, 710,703 students (source: Ballotpedia, figures given are the most recent as of June 2015). Of this amount, 73,373 teachers and 1.1 million students were in New York City during the 2011/12 school year (source: New York City Independent Budget Office Schools Brief, May 2014).

New York City still wrestles with the questions: Is it that Latoya cannot spell or is it that Latoya’s mother works two jobs and isn’t going to Parent Night? Or is it that Mrs. Franken has not set up a print-rich environment? Or is it that Mr. Dixon, the Principal is not even observing the classrooms in his building at least two times a week? The Board of Regents for NYS Department of Education ponders these scenarios and develops models of teaching and administration assessment.

The current assessment is the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) for use during the 2015/16 through 2018/19 school terms. There is a moratorium on using standardized tests for teacher evaluations during this period. The APPR involves external and internal professionals observing classroom teachers and principals in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. The educators use a four-scale rating system where the teachers and principals are deemed either:
Highly Effective (H):  90 -100% of students meet or exceed Student Learning Objectives
Effective (E): 75 – 89 % of students meets or exceeds Student Learning Objectives
Developing (D): 60 – 74% of students meets or exceeds Student Learning Objectives
Ineffective (I): 0 - 59% of students meet or exceed Student Learning Objectives

The external professionals are trained Independent Evaluators. The internal professionals are district superintendents or other administrators that assess the principals. There is the option of using trained peer principals. Each school’s principal or other trained administrator assesses the classroom teachers. There is the option to use trained peer educators.

Late December 2016, NYC Education Chancellor Carmen Farina, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan, and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew agreed that the best interest of the New York City public school system is best served by submitting an Independent Evaluator Hardship Waiver due to financial hardship. The waiver looks innocuous. It requires giving the school district’s name, school district’s BEDS code, marking “Yes’ or “No” to Rural District and Single Building District, and then giving a substantive response to “Please describe the size and/or resource constraints that are preventing your district from obtaining an independent evaluator within a reasonable proximity without an undue burden:”

Dr. Sam Anderson, an education activist and Lurie Daniel Favors, General Counsel for the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College were invited to offer their insights on the current version of principal and classroom teacher evaluation. Dr. Anderson believes independent evaluators will be better than the school principals doing so. In fact, he “would go a step further and have a panel of teacher peers, students, and parents do the teacher evaluations.” When asked what work products ought to be used to assess school teachers, he responding more so to the expression ‘work product’: “First, I don’t accept the corporate phrase, ‘work products’. Our children and educators are not products. Education is not a product like a new phone or new app. Teachers are supposed to develop a child's whole intellect to their fullest capability-- not ‘produce’ a loyal test-taking machine being molded for anti-critical thinking for the profit sake of Global Capitalism.”

“The UFT and the CSA have become fully incorporated into the privatizing process of public education. In addition, these two organizations have implicitly and explicitly embraced the school-to-prison pipeline model of education for Black and Latino children. Within this acceptance, they have either embraced or ignored the reality of the disappearing Black and Latino educators. This racist acceptance is a necessary part of the mechanism of privatization and is being replicated all across the US” was his concluding remark.

Lurie Daniel-Favors, Esq. contends [the school teachers] “ought to be assessed on performance but instead, they are looking at tests which are racially skewed. Rather than standardized tests, the students’ portfolios ought to be evaluated. The portfolios contain classroom exercises, student projects, class examinations and quizzes.

Given the three-year moratorium on using standardized tests for teacher evaluations, Daniel-Favors’ contends “The tests are racially skewed and they are not a predictor of success beyond the test. They don’t predict the capacity for brilliance. “Standardized tests are flawed, reductive approaches to assessing intelligence.”

“Tests are great for students who have access to test preparation programs. Children demonstrate their intelligence in different ways. There is art and poetry, building and construction, and the sciences. “If we’re moving away from exams to evaluate teachers, then move away from them for the students” are Daniel-Favors other thoughts on the value of standardized tests.

Daniel-Favors’ position on independent evaluators intersects Anderson’s: “The value of the independent evaluator is having a neutral party who has distance from the school. This distance permits not being swayed by interpersonal relationships within the school. This distance has its positives and negatives in that the independent evaluator does not know the school culture, kinship networks, nor has sufficient background knowledge about the culture of learning in that school. The independent evaluator can give the hard facts but is unable to develop a holistic picture of the learning experience in the building.”

Neither Daniel-Favors nor Anderson know the source for the independent evaluators. The nonprofit TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) explains in a May 13, 2015 memo to the NYS Education Department’s acting Commissioner the recruiting and hiring of trained Independent Evaluators is the district’s responsibility. TNTP is based in downtown Brooklyn and provides teacher professional development to schools and districts in the United States. Its clientele includes New York City. “With average caseloads of 100 teachers, most commonly, it is a full-time position held by former teachers or current teachers who are taking a temporary leaves of absence. Most districts use Independent Evaluators who had been rated Highly Effective (H) or Effective (E) when they worked as classroom teachers. TNTP suggests that the salary for these personnel be at least equivalent to the teachers’ current position and at the end of the hiring process, the prospective Independent Evaluators undergo another rating wherein those that are judged H and E are offered the job.”

On December 21, 2016, Chancellor Carmen Farina for the NYC Education Department issued a lengthy press release explaining the hardship waiver application to be submitted by December 31, 2016, new assessments for Measures of Student Learning (teacher observations) and Measures of Leadership Practice (principal observations) rubric. A subsequent press release on the matter has not been publicized as of January 25, 2017.

New York City is not alone in expressing its challenge in fulfilling the APPR mandate. NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said on June 14, 2016, “It is not just New York City. Across the state school districts are voicing concerns.” The concerns come from the prospect of hiring a large number of teachers to observe other teachers.

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Saluting a Statesman that Represented the US Admirably

In a matter of days, President Barack H. Obama will pass on the responsibility of leading the United States and the free world to Donald J. Trump. As previous US Presidents have done, President Obama and family will board an awaiting aircraft on the White House lawn, give us their big smiles and wave good-bye. The door will shut, the aircraft will lift off, and hopefully, the family will be let out to a quiet, unregimented locale. One of his many distinctions will be that he passes on the baton while he still has physical vigor to open another active chapter of his life. Obama was born in 1961 which makes him 55 years old. His two predecessors George Bush, Jr. and William Clinton were born in 1946.

Many news stories describe Obama as America’s first Black US President. In truth, he is the seventh Black US President—two others being Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln—or eighth when the public considers the period when the United States of America was a confederation of thirteen states. During that two year period, John Hanson, a highly melanated man was President.

The 44th President has led a life of accomplishments. He has authored five books; was a community organizer for Developing Communities Project (1985-1988); a Civil Rights lawyer with Davis, Miner, Barnhill, and Galland (1993-2004); an Illinois State Senator (1996-2004); US Senator for Illinois (2005-2008); and US President (2009 -2017). Besides documentaries, a romantic drama, Southside With You, was made while he was still in office. This fan fare or publicity is on the level of John and Jacqueline Kennedy.

And like Kennedy, Obama has his fans and detractors. He detractors will say he did not do enough to directly improve the prosperity of US households though bailing out the banking industry improved the economy. For every US Presidential candidate, the way to know his agenda is to query him on US cabinet choices.

Once Obama has reacquainted himself with family and old friends, the social activism bug will bite him. Given his eight year effort to substantively address climate change, it is likely he will sustain the momentum. As a man of the people, his ears will be open to the concerns of the public. This writer contacted many elected officials, nonprofit administrators, and community-based organizations to get their responses to the following question: Once Barack Obama is fully rested, what do you suggest his next project or mission be?

Ethel Tyus, Board Member, General Counsel, and Treasurer for Crown Heights North Association suggests: As a constitutional law professor, President Obama can help guide State and local legislators in using voting and census data to reconfigure the gerrymandered districts that gave Republicans control of both Houses of Congress. This should be done in preparation for the 2020 elections.

Richard Flateau, Brooklyn Community Board no. 3 President proposes:
His next order of work is involvement with the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. He can serve as an inspirational force and a role model. Barack Obama could do symbolic and substantive things to uplift Black boys and young men. He can continue his effort in gun control in the United States or actualize his interest in developing future leaders—girls and boys—as exemplified by PECASE awardees and other endeavors [who are new professionals in their respective fields].

From NYS Senator Jesse Hamilton (SD 20):
Former presidents have done great things both at home and abroad in terms of directing attention to important causes and continuing to help the American people grapple with tough problems. Leaving the office of President of the United States does not have to be the end of service to the American people. After his presidency, and after a well-deserved vacation, I hope President Obama will continue to lead on mentoring and the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. In Brownsville, I have seen firsthand the difference mentoring can make in the lives of our community’s young people. President Obama has a standing invitation to come and visit "the Campus”, our first-in-the-nation technology and wellness hub at a public housing site, that has helped so many young people through mentoring and afterschool education. I am positive that President Obama will continue to be an inspirational figure and that he will help lead on youth engagement, education, and ensuring the next generation of America’s young people have every opportunity to succeed. I look forward to whatever initiative he puts his mind to in his post-presidency, and I am sure he will bring the same sense of purposeful commitment to whatever challenge he chooses to take on. The same applies to our outstanding First Lady Michelle Obama, she has a record of leadership and inspiring people around the world.

NYS Assembly Member Latrice Walker (AD 55) offers:
I think President Barack Obama’s next mission, after he leaves the White House, should be to champion these three causes; the first being the protection of the right to vote. The second cause, would be to assist in developing a fair and equitable system for reapportionment and redistricting that also respects minority majority districts. Lastly, to mentor and train a new generation of leaders in the Democratic Party.

Statement from Council Member, Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. (CD 36):
President Obama’s service has been invaluable. I hope he will have a larger role within our Democratic Party to ensure the policies we have worked so hard for, i.e., correcting racial injustices, healthcare for all, STEM education, etc. will remain intact under a Republican administration. His next move should also mirror that of his predecessors, such as opening his Presidential Library, authoring more books, and speaking engagements, particularly within our urban communities which will benefit so many of our young people. Whatever pathway he chooses, I am sure our nation will continue to benefit from his service for many more years to come.

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Local Environment Stewards Advise Incoming US Cabinet Members

As for the US Dept of Energy, instead of suppressing [the roll out of] renewable energy, as is anticipated, this Department should encourage innovation in alternative fuels/ energy sources. If developed, that effort would create jobs and the free market would decide what mode of energy would be predominant. If encouraged we could even end up with a dual system for our energy needs” – Prospect Heights Community Garden Co-Administrator and Master Gardener Traci Nottingham

Friday, January 20, 2017 at 12 noon marks the changing of the guards in US national government. Barack H. Obama steps down as the 44th President of the United States and father of the First Family to make way for Donald J. Trump, the 45th President. His legacy is a mixed bag of meritable and unpopular legislation. The unpopular include the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and the Affordable Health Care Act. The meritable include the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the opening of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

In his eight years, President Obama had Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to agree to serve as the Interior Secretary in order to establish solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable processes on public lands; designated 3.9 million acres as national monuments under the Antiquities Act; accomplished the United States-Canada Joint Arctic Leader Statement which included indigenous leaders; and signed the Paris Agreement in December 2015. President Obama continued the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), an award program initiated by President William J. Clinton. January 9, 2017, Obama named 102 scientists and researchers as 2017 PECASE recipients. Due to the above accolades and others, President Barack Obama is dubbed the Environmental US President.

He, of course, has his failings. Obama has been unsuccessful in getting the Japanese to stop hunting whales and setting the acceptable ozone level to 70 particulates per billion is deemed unsafe for humans to breathe by medical scientists. However, societal change can start from the root, the people. As Spanish poet Antonio Machado advised: “…wanderer, there is no road, we make the road by walking...”

Within several days, the Trump administration will settle in at Trump Towers in midtown Manhattan to actualize “Make America Great Again.” How will that affect the land, air, and water? Good indicators are his nominees for Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Labor.

The Secretary of Agriculture is still to be named as of January 9, 2017.

Energy Secretary nominee is former Texas Governor James Richard “Rick” Perry. Selecting Perry to this post may be a tacit assurance to the oil and other fossil fuel industry.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator nominee is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. It is purported Pruitt intends to strike a balance between environmental protection and freedom for American business.

Donald Trump nominated Dr. Benjamin Carson for Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Carson who is a successful neurosurgeon has not held an elected office. Rather the basis for this assignment is that Carson’s early life was spent in Detroit, one of the United States major urban centers.

The Interior Secretary nominee is Montana US Representative Ryan Zinke. Zinke maintains public lands should remain under federal ownership rather than transfer them to state control.

The Labor Secretary nominee is Andrew F. Puzder. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants. Most notable in this portfolio is Hardee’s. The Labor Department sets hourly wage, work hours, and working condition standards for agricultural, office, domestic, and industrial workers. Puzder opposes raising the minimum wage due to the likely response of replacing human labor with automation. He is critical of paid sick leave.

This reporter contacted five local groups with environmental pursuits—two community gardens, a land trust, a farming education program, and a community organizing group—in order for the people to inform and shape the incoming administration’s environmental agenda. Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) and Prospect Heights Community Farm responded and their comments follow:

Brooklyn Queens Land Trusts’ Board of Directors:
It is very important that the Trump administration continue to fund the The People’s Garden Initiative which is part of the US Department of Agriculture. The People’s Garden Initiative helps to sustain urban, suburban, and small scale agriculture projects to grow healthy food. Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, owner of 34 community gardens in a highly dense urban area, works with volunteers and collaborates with a variety of organizations to maintain clean soils, grow healthy food and build community. Urban areas need to be able to sustain themselves.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has many initiatives to fight climate change and calls for accurate information sharing at all levels of government. BQLT relies on accurate information from our government when we manage the 34 community gardens that we own.

Obama’s EPA executive order states:
·         Engaged and strong partnerships and information sharing at all levels of government
·         Risk-informed decision-making
·         Adaptive learning
·         Preparedness planning

Prospect Heights Community Farm, Co-Administrator and Master Gardener Traci Nottingham:
The US Department of Agriculture should encourage new innovative ways to increase crop yields without the use of GMO's. Government-supported research in organic farming methods should be implemented. This would also create a variety of job types that many call for, from research and testing to the actual farming. GMO labeling should be mandatory across the country-not in a few states.

The US Environmental Protection Agency should not relax regulations that ensure clean water, air, and soil. Despite claims of industry-hampering regulations, without them we would have an exponential rise in healthcare needs which, while lucrative for healthcare companies, it is not lucrative or conducive for the nation's populace. Health concerns would cause productivity loss across all sectors and should we have to go to war we would have no worthy soldiers.

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