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Bronx Tales: Black School Reformers Confirm Admissions Test’s Door-opening Power

By Deroy Murdock & Charles Vavruska

As published in Townhall.com

Source: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

 “Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots,” blared the headline in The New York Times. Eliza Shapiro’s March 18 article caused a hurricane of media-driven rage and rendered the Leftist Twitterati apoplectic. Predictably, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gotham’s Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza used this occasion to split the Big Apple along racial lines. They renewed their call to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which measures students’ preparedness for Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, and New York’s other Specialized High Schools. Since the SHSAT is written into state law, its fate lies with policymakers in Albany, not with the mayor or his equity-obsessed de-education chancellor.

Pro-SHSAT advocates loudly and persistently have defended the objective, merit-based exam. In response State Senator John Liu (D – Queens), chairman of the NYC Education Committee, announced a series of listening sessions titled “School Diversity and Specialized High School Admissions Community Forums.” Liu promised such a gathering in each of Gotham’s five boroughs.

Pro-SHSAT parents and alumni dominated hearings in Queens and Brooklyn, with few anti-SHSAT activists in attendance. In contrast to the SHSAT supporters’ calls for consistent, standardized tests, SHSAT detractors argued that diversity through race-based admission would provide better education.

SHSAT fans showed up in force for a conclave in the Bronx last month. Liberal, elitist SHSAT opponents largely stayed away. Perhaps traveling to New York’s lowest-income borough was too far a leap from their cushy bubbles in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s tonier precincts.

Unexpectedly, black Bronxites tried to slap the city to its senses. They defended the SHSAT and shared inspirational stories of how it opened doors for them.

Eleanor George, a Bronx resident and Bronx Science alumna, applauded the test. She recalled her years at I.S. 131, known more warmly as The Albert Einstein School. Located in the Bronx’s Soundview neighborhood, this middle-school campus was mainly black and Hispanic. Many students there called the nearby projects home. George remembered a guidance counselor visiting her class and “lauding the praises” of vocational high schools. When George went home that day, she told her mother that she aspired to attend a vocational high school.

The next day, her mother confronted the Einstein School’s principal: “How dare you only offer vocational high schools” to George and her classmates. The guidance counselor soon returned to the class and told students about the Specialized High Schools, including Bronx Science. Einstein offered George and some of her classmates free test-preparation lessons in the morning, before school. George scored very high on the SHSAT. She was accepted to Bronx Science’s Class of 1978, as was her friend who lived in a housing project and achieved that year’s highest SHSAT score. George pondered what her friend’s fate would have been if her mother had not advocated for her.

George, who became a teacher, also said that many Bronx Science students in the 1970s received the same test-preparation courses that she did. Restoring such instruction, she argued, would have positive results for many black students who are improperly nurtured today.

Next, Joan Cargill, a Bronx Science alumna, took the stage at Liu’s May 17 forum. Cargill addressed “Inspiration, being inspired, the lack of inspiration, and the need to bring it back.” She spoke about growing up in the Bronx as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. Cargill, then 9, learned that a friend’s cousin was accepted to Bronx Science. This news inspired her to attend the school that yielded eight Nobel Laureates. “The test can’t go away,” Cargill pleaded. “In a society where everyone wins a trophy, all I had was the test. My parents had no money. It was the competitiveness I needed, as a girl whose parents worked all the time.”

A black woman named Lisa Benton told a story that could make an actuary cry. And it did.

Benton explained how her uncle, the son of a Savannah, Georgia sharecropper, took Stuyvesant’s test in 1932. He did well and was accepted. However, the admissions officers scoffed at the notion that a sharecropper’s son could possess such smarts. So, the young man had to re-take the exam. The farmer’s son met the required score and entered one of NYC’s most successful anti-poverty institutions.

“If he could pass this test in 1932,” Benton said, “I know in 2019, kids of color can pass this test.” Seeing this man’s niece so eloquently tell this tale movingly confirmed that Specialized High Schools elevate New Yorkers, so that they and their progeny can climb to previously unimaginable heights.

“Hearing Lisa Benton’s story brought tears to my eyes,” said Jon Roberts, a local actuary, mathematician, and education-reform activist. “Her uncle struggled to overcome the injustice and discrimination that were so prevalent in 1932. He earned the right to attend Stuyvesant through study and hard work, despite being poor and black during the Great Depression.”

Roberts added, “If admission were determined by subjective criteria, then he never would have been admitted to Stuyvesant, despite being qualified. But the test-only policy defeated anti-black racism and let Lisa’s uncle attend. Only a test can overcome human bias. We must keep the test-only policy for the Specialized High Schools.”

As for School Chancellor Carranza, he told the New York State Assembly Education Committee last month: “I refuse to believe there are no smart black and brown children.” Too bad he is so race-obsessed that he cannot let these precocious children meet their natural-born, God-given potential. Instead, he plays race-based numbers games with their future.

Carranza also counts adult racial beans, often at the expense of “implicitly biased” Caucasians. As a New York Post headline put it, “White Out: Carranza ‘demoted’ execs because ‘of their skin color.’” For Carranza, race, not classroom excellence, is the primary factor in Department of Education employment decisions. New Yorkers will learn plenty more about Carranza’s color-driven worldview as he defends himself in a $90 million lawsuit filed by three white, female DOE employees. They claim that Carranza denied them promotions and, instead, offered them to allegedly less-qualified minority staffers.

At the same State Assembly hearing, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D – New York City) testified that eliminating the SHSAT is like “Saying your kids are too dumb to pass,” which “makes people believe their communities are somehow dumber than others.” The uplifting Bronx tales shared at Liu’s forum would prompt anyone who heard them to fight against Carranza’s anti-SHSAT jihad, which is built on an assumption of black and Hispanic intellectual incapacity.

Meanwhile, de Blasio has abrogated his mayoral duties to pursue a self-humiliating presidential bid. A recent survey revealed that he enjoys the support of 0 percent of Democrats and, among 600 Iowans polled, not even one wanted him, even as a second choice. Instead of romping through Iowa corn fields, de Blasio should have sat in Lehman College’s Lovinger Theatre in the Bronx. He might have been moved to fire Carranza and install someone ready for the hard work necessary to repair Gotham’s dysfunctional government schools. America’s largest city desperately needs a leader who can address the rampant under-education of so many black boys and girls, abandon twisted policies that push them down in the name of equity, and, instead, lift every child — up, up, and away.

Manhattan-based political commentator Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research. Queens-based education reformer Charles Vavruska is a parent activist and evangelist for the local Specialized High School Admissions Test.

Conservative in Queens? A club for you

Conservative in Queens? A club for you

Article on Queens Village Republican Club as published in Queens Chronicle

Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019 10:30 am |
by Michael Shain Editor 

Joe Concannon, first vice president of the Queens Village Republican Club, chatted on the dais of the Lincoln Dinner, the group’s biggest event of the year, with Jamie Ulloa, an education activist.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, Republicans wandered the streets of Eastern Queens like wildebeest on the Serengeti.

As far as the eye could see, supporters of Dwight Eisenhower, Jacob Javits and Nelson Rockefeller lived, shopped and voted in the neighborhoods along the Nassau County border. Occasionally, they even won an election.

“This was a heavily Republican area,” said James Trent, the chairman and unofficial historian of the Queens Village Republican Club.

Back when New York City had a two-party political climate, the eastern half of Queens usually sent Republican lawmakers to the City Council and Albany.

The explanation was simple, said Trent. Queens Village is a neighborhood of single-family homes and, time was, “homeowners were traditionally more Republican than apartment dwellers.”

When the Queens Village Republican Club was founded in 1875, the name Queens Village didn’t even exist. The area was called Brushville.

The only thing that hasn’t changed since then is the name Republican and the turbulent style of party politics in Queens.

Just 20 years ago, the GOP club that claims to be the oldest in America came perilously close to going under altogther.

The story of its comeback is a variation on the Horatio Alger tale that Republicans so love to tell.

By the early 1990s, the Queens Village Republican Club was down to just four members, said Trent. Bill Clinton was president and there was widespread speculation that Republicans in a few short years would go the way of the Bull Moose Party.

“Between 1990 and ’94, it didn’t meet at all,” he said. “It never disbanded. It was just dormant.”

It was the Queens Village Catholic War Veterans in Bellerose that seemingly saved the group by hosting a QVGOP meeting at its headquarters and inviting all its members.

“About 70 people showed up and that was the beginning,” Trent said.

Shortly after, the Republican group discovered three other nearby clubs from Fresh Meadows, Bellaire and Bellerose that were experiencing the same thing.

“There’s nothing worse than going to meeting where six people show up,” said Trent. “It makes you feel like you’re on the fringe.”

The groups elected to merge with the QVGOP.

“Now,” he said, “we’re a serious club.”

Political clubs date back to the French Revolution. They are informal groups of like-minded people who gather to talk about the issues of the moment, usually with the goal of influencing elections or officeholders.

They are also natural breeding grounds for outsiders who want to seek public office.

In that way, they are like the tide pools of American politics, where ideas and political talent is spawned.

“We became a political club again when we started running people for office,” said Joe Concannon, a retired NYPD captain who is the club’s first vice president.

Concannon was among a handful of club members who have jumped into the election fray as candidates for the City Council and the state Assembly.

The club has yet to field a winning candidate but every time it runs someone, said Concannon, “it brings people to the club.”

The Lincoln Dinner is a rare showcase for local conservatives.

The centerpiece of the QVGOP’s year is the annual Lincoln Dinner in early spring.

It not only is the group’s main fundraiser, but a showcase for conservative office seekers.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island, Brooklyn) kicked off her campaign for mayor there two years ago with a stemwinder speech outlining Bill de Blasio’s liberal shortcomings.

Before Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) challenged and upset incumbent Elizabeth Crowley in the City Council primary election of 2017, he spoke at the Lincoln Dinner about how his plan for reshaping city government to boost small businesses and middle-class homeowners and accepted an award.

Since the 2016 presidential election, the Lincoln Dinner has been a whistle stop for some of the Trump campaign’s most colorful personalities.

For figures like political consultant Roger Stone (who brought longtime friend Kristin Davis, the Manhattan Madam, as his date) and Trump’s campaign spokesman Corey Lewandowski, the dinner is a rare chance to appear before a sympathetic crowd inside the city limits of deep-blue New York.

Trent traces the origins of the Lincoln Dinner back 144 years, before the city was consolidated into five boroughs and Queens was included in what became Nassau County. What is now eastern Queens was largely farmland.

The dinner was the first thing the revitalized QVGOP club got going again.

“Sixty-one people came to the first dinner in 1995,” said Trent. “The last one, we had 350.”

While all this was happening, the ethnic makeup of Queens Village itself was changing, seemingly by the week.

Once a German, Irish and Italian neighborhood,it became home to large numbers of South Asian, Chinese, Hispanic and West Indian families.

The demographics did not look good for the QVGOP until, near the end of the 1990s a club calling itself the Haitian American Republican Coalition approached the QVGOP looking for a new home, said Trent.

“Many of them were doctors who had fled Haiti” and felt no affinity for Bill Clinton and the Democrats, he said.

“They wanted to be with the Republicans, and we embraced that,” said Trent.

“If you’re an immigrant, there’s this assumption you are on welfare and that you want freebies and handouts. You can’t get farther from the truth,” he said.

The QVGOP began seeking out more immigrant groups, one at a time.

Koreans were next, then Georgians (the once-Soviet kind) and Pakistani Christians.

“We started asking them, ‘We know how you feel about a lot of issues, so why are you Democrats?’” Trent recalled. “And they said: ‘Because they asked us. You didn’t.’”

Recruiting like-minded immigrants, he said, sets the Queens Village club apart from much of the rest of the party.

“A lot of people are not used to the way we do things here,” he said. “Where they come from, you criticize the government, you disappear.

“That’s why we have to reach out.

“I know people think Republicans are just a bunch of old white people. And maybe it’s that way in some parts of the country. But not in our club.”

The Rev. Tariq Rehmat, president of the United Pakastani-American Christian Community in Queens Village, was drawn to the club in 2016, he said, because it supported Trump, as he and his organization did.

“American values are not what is going on in New York right now,” he said. The people he met at his first QVGOP meeting were “totally different” than New Yorkers had known since immigrating here 20 years ago.

“I have brought a lot of Democrats to change registration to Republican,” Remat said proudly.

Concannon believes the QVGOP is “the most ethnically diverse Republican club in the state, maybe the United States.”

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