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Following Death of Popular Pincipal, P.S. 209 Teachers and Parents Look to Rename School

October 25, 2007

NYCity News Service

When P.S. 209 principal Jacquelyn Cannon died in May, parents, teachers, and community residents realized they wanted to make sure the school retained the spirit of its much-loved leader.

Now, they’re hoping to go one step further – in renaming the school and a portion of 183rd Street on which the school sits in her honor.

“She was the mother of the school,” said Niya Mitchell, whose third-grade daughter, Ny’Rayah Mitchell, attended the school and whose first-grade son, Charles Fields, is in his second year there. “You’d never hear anything negative about her.”

Mitchell, along with her mother and Louella Hatch, president of the 46th Precinct’s Community Council, started a petition to get the school renamed and got 400 people to sign it in just two days. In September, Hatch sent it to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, the local council member, and Community Board 5.

The Council usually votes on street renaming twice a year – in the spring and in the fall – said Jeremy Drucker, a Council spokesperson. No date’s been set for the fall vote, but Hatch says she’s confident it will pass. It won’t cost the city much to put up another street sign or change the lettering above the entrance to the building, she said.

The proposed name change is in memory of a woman who even second-grade students remember as someone who has helped them develop. They remember her favorite book that she read to them during class (“Piggy Pie”), how she persuaded Macy’s to donate stuffed Snoopy and Curious George toys to all the students last Christmas, and how the four-month-old school playground was her brainchild, even though she didn’t see it to completion.

Faculty and parents remember Cannon, who was 57 and lived in White Plains, as sweet but firm. “She was phenomenal,” said Anne Keegan, who served as assistant principal under Cannon and is now the principal. “She really brought academics to our early childhood school. I miss her every day; she never let anything overtake her.”

They recall that Cannon danced in her office to Michael Jackson, Keegan said, or even to a pen she owned that made music, teacher Jocelyn Kahl said. But she knew when to be serious: If a teacher didn’t have a lesson plan ready or do his or her best, she’d send it back until it was the teacher’s best effort.

She pushed parents, too. Mitchell recalled that she once fell but didn’t go to the doctor at first. Cannon saw she was hurting and told her she wouldn’t let her back into the school – not even to visit, which is tough when you have two children in the school and try to volunteer whenever called upon, said Mitchell – until she sought treatment. Mitchell heeded the call.

Though Cannon had sickle cell anemia, an inherited blood disorder, she didn’t let it stop her. She continued to dress up for Halloween every year, and many people didn’t know she was sick until she died, first-grade teacher Jennifer Mittleman said. She continued to enter classrooms to read books to the children until just a few weeks before her death.

No job was too menial for her, said Fay Adams, a supervising school aide whom Cannon hired when she came on board in 1998. Adams is one of six people from within the neighborhood whom Cannon hired full-time during her 12 years as principal. “She came in here picking up a mop one day, and though I told her no, she said, ‘I’ll do anything to keep the kids happy, to keep the building running smooth.’ ”

“She was the perfect principal for a K-2 school,” Kahl added. “She would do anything and did everything for these kids.”

Cedar Playground: A Rich and Valuable Resource in the Community

October 24, 2007


Cedar Playground has fascinated me since I moved to the Bronx. This small oasis in the concrete jungle rises up a steep embankment along 179th Street at Cedar Avenue to Sedgwick Avenue. It is kept in fair condition by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The playground seems to be used quite regularly by the community for recreation.

I would like to propose a few improvements as well as two larger initiatives, which will increase community use and respect of the playground. Parks should repair the broken fence near the eastern boarder of the playground. Parks should also support efforts to install a plaque that would commemorate the role that Cedar Playground has played in the formation of hip-hop culture. Finally, I would like to encourage community support for a weekly Greenmarket in Cedar Playground.

Cedar Playground

Cedar Playground is a 1.3-acre green space that has been in the city’s inventory of land since 1884, when it was acquired through the Aqueduct Commission. In 1934 the city ceded control of the land, and it became an official park on Dec. 19 of that year. It has undergone several renovations in the past 73 years. The sitting area along 179th Street was added in 1955. By 1988 the basketball court, play equipment, lighting, benches, and tables had been installed.

Many mature trees stand in the park providing much needed shade keeping people and the earth cool; there’s clean air, or oxygen, the by-product of photosynthesis; and the simple beauty of nature. A canopy of trees stands along 179th Street, which curves upward from the Major Deegan ending at Sedgwick Avenue before becoming Burnside Avenue – a positively bucolic entrance into Morris Heights that belies the desolate image of the Bronx often depicted in the media.

Approximately a year ago I noticed that a portion of the stone and iron fence that follows the edge of the park along 179th Street was destroyed. At some point in the spring a chain-link fence was erected, presumably to protect the Parks Department from litigation by any passers-by who may unwittingly hurt themselves. In response to my queries about this fence and its schedule to be repaired, the Parks Department has stated that they are awaiting capital funds to be raised to repair damage done by a moving vehicle.

I pursued this response by contacting Council Member Helen Foster, one source of capital funds. Her office was unaware of the damaged fence. She did, however, send staff to investigate. Foster wrote to Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte on Oct. 23, 2007, requesting that the fence be repaired. Foster noted that there were 50 large stone pieces sitting on the ground next to the destroyed fence. She also requested that several other repairs to Cedar Playground be made including planting grass, flowers, and bushes, replacing a missing water fountain, repairing handrails and benches, broken basketball goals, and pipes in the comfort station. I would like to commend Council Member Foster’s swift action and hope that Commissioner Aponte will respond as quickly.

As steps are made toward these corporeal improvements to Cedar Playground, I hope that the Parks Department will take notice of an initiative proposed by Debra Harris, founder of Hush Tours, to erect a plaque commemorating hip-hop’s origins in the playground. Hush Tours offers a historical journey of hip-hop through uptown Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. Harris says that her tour guests are awestruck when taken to Cedar Playground. It was there that legendary DJ Kool Herc honed his skills and presided over hip-hop’s first party. According to local history, Herc moved a party from the community room of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. into Cedar Playground, plugging his turntables and speakers into a Con Edison power source.

Finally, Cedar Playground is an ideal location for a Greenmarket. There is ample space for vendors as well as for the farmers’ vehicles to load and unload. Greenmarkets are a plentiful, nutritious, and healthy food source, especially in neighborhoods that lack an abundance of fresh produce. Greenmarkets have the technology to accept EBT food stamps. Greenmarkets also bring money into the neighborhood businesses. In a recent survey of the Union Square Greenmarket, 82 percent cited the market as the primary reason for their visit and 60 percent spent up to $50 in area businesses. Not only would a Greenmarket provide for the local community, it would draw new business, due to its prominent location near the Major Deegan Expressway. Greenmarkets raise the quality of life by bringing neighbors together while reviving public spaces, and they are also a great source of education for children.

I would like to ask Commissioner Aponte and Council Member Foster to lead the community in achieving these goals.

Fuchs is the development director of the New York Rowing Association. He lives in Morris Heights.