Mary Somoza

Member, Community School Board Two


Community School Board Two

Calendar Meeting


November 28, 2000


As a member of Community School Board Two’s Math Committee, I would like to express my concern about the intent to cancel the Math Forum scheduled for March 1st, 2001. It is my impression that Board Members Douglas Robinson and Danny Yip will propose that the full board adopt a recommendation from the Math Committee to cancel the forum.


In a three way telephone conversation between Douglas Robinson, Danny Yip and myself on November 17th, Mr Robinson suggested that we cancel the forum due to lack of parent interest. It was obvious to me that Mr Robinson and Mr Yip had spoken to each other prior to our conversation. Despite my argument that there was indeed enormous parent interest in this forum, Mr Robinson was determined to take a vote on the issue. I refused, and told him the issue should be discussed with the whole math committee, and any decision should be discussed in public.


The Math Committee consists of three board members and four parents who have been involved with the committee since its inception. I believe we had no right to even discuss the cancellation of the math forum without  first hearing their perspectives. Mr Robinson, having the majority it appears, went ahead and called for a vote. I was no longer part of the conversation at that time. And, it is my understanding that Mr Robinson and Mr Yip will ask the board to support them on this issue


Parents Council held a meeting on Monday, November 20th. I called Melanie Arwin, President of Parents Council and Cynthia Nachsin, Recording Secretary to find out if indeed, in their opinion, there was no longer concern among the parents regarding math. I was told that three quarters of their last meeting was taken up with a discussion on math, and there was considerable concern amongst the parents. Some parents had brought in copies of their children’s homework, making great efforts to disguise the name of the school and teacher involved. They remarked that they “did not want to get them (the teachers)  in trouble.”


I urge this board not to go ahead and recommend a cancellation of the math forum. If the district has nothing to hide, and believes in this math curriculum, they should be able to adequately defend it and have no fear of outside experts’ opinions.


It would be foolish to backtrack on our promise to hold an open forum, with experts from both sides discussing the math program, both fine parts and failings, for parents to make their own determinations.


Several months back, after the math night at PS 89, a number of parents and teachers came to testify before us regarding their concerns with the math programs. My own daughter had been having significant problems with math after she graduated from

PS 234 in 1996. PS 234 piloted this new math curriculum.


An instructor of mathematics from Stuyvesant, Bruce Winokur, testified about the number of children he was tutoring in District Two, and his concern about the math program. I spoke with him after the meeting and asked if he would be available to tutor my daughter. However, when he told me he charged $80 per hour, I realized his fees were out of my range.


I did however hire Mr Winokur to go to my daughter’s schools and evaluate her. He confirmed what I had already suspected. She was very bright, but did not know basic arithmetic. He suggested tutoring in basic math, without which, she could not begin to do the more advanced work now facing her in the higher grades. I made my concerns known to the District, and they are now providing her with a math tutor at the District’s expense. Since the tutor is paid a teacher’s hourly rate, $34, it took me six months to find someone willing to work for that amount. Private math tutors’ fees range between $60 and $120 per hour. Many parents in District Two cannot afford tutors, nor should they be necessary. So my question as a Board Member and as a parent is “are we setting our children up to fail?”


I remind my fellow board members that they were elected to serve the children in this district, not the District office. I wish to make particular reference to Chinatown, with its large immigrant population. They are particularly concerned with this new math. The dramatic plunge in scores at IS 131 should be sufficient for us to take a second look at this. The math teachers in Chinatown are too intimidated by the District Office to openly voice their dismay with this curriculum. That has not been lost on this board member.


My recommendation to the Board is to go ahead with the math forum as planned