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Weprin to challenge city education policies

When it comes to education, City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) plans to be a thorn in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s sides.

Weprin left Albany after serving as a state assemblyman for 15 years in part to focus on educational issues in the city and he plans to challenge the administration on what he says is an overemphasis on standardized tests.

“Kids are learning how to cheat the tests and because they’re doing test prep they’re not learning as much,” said Weprin, a member of the Council Education Committee. “I can tell you my kids are learning less under mayoral control.”

Weprin represents the 23rd Council District, which includes Hollis, Hollis Hills, Queens Village, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park, Holliswood and Fresh Meadows. He formerly represented Assembly District 24, where his brother, David Weprin, won the seat last week. David Weprin previously held the Council seat Mark Weprin now holds.

The Oakland Gardens lawmaker said a tunnel-vision focus on testing has resulted in fewer art and music programs in the schools and a flawed system of teacher evaluations.

“They should assess how they teach,” Weprin said. “It should be evaluations from principals, superintendents and surveys from parents and students .%u2026 I want to know if a school is safe, overcrowded, if there’s art.”

In his role on the Council Technology Committee, Weprin said he plans to encourage bringing such items as SmartBoards to classrooms. SmartBoards are essentially interactive white boards that provide students with such functions as the ability to look up class notes on the Web.

As chairman of the Council Land Use Committee’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Weprin said he expects to focus on downzonings in such areas as Hollis Hills and Auburndale to curb over-development and limit the height of homes.

“I’m all for downsizing to keep the neighborhood the way it was when people bought their houses,” Weprin said.

The Councilman also said he hopes to amend a city law that prohibits Sikhs in uniform, such as a police officer or a Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee, from wearing a turban.

“If people want to serve our country and city, they should be allowed to wear religious attire,” Weprin said.

It should not be difficult for Weprin to at least voice his concerns — after all, he said he often runs into the mayor and members of the Council in City Hall. This, he said, is different from his experience in the Assembly, where everyone was more spread out.

“City Hall almost feels like a high school,” Weprin said. “Everybody’s in that one building. I constantly see the mayor. I could go six months without seeing the governor in Albany.”

The closeness creates an informality liked by Weprin, often known as a joker in Albany who, for example, switched the yes and no voting buttons on state Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown).

“I like it,” Weprin said. “Councilman Jimmy Oddo [R-Staten Island] was making jokes on opening day. In the state Legislature, it is rare they’d get up there and do shtick. Shtick seems status quo in City Hall.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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