CEC President Making A Difference In Bushwick

In addition to working as a special tax auditor for the Department of Finance, Abiodun Bello also serves as the president of Community Education Council 32 in Bushwick.

Originally published in Times Newsweekly
July 31, 2008 Edition

As a college student in his early 20s, Abiodun Bello was astonished at the disparity among female and male African-American students in his university, and vowed to make it his personal mission to encourage more boys to strive for a better education.

“I came here for only one reason and that was to improve myself,” said the Lagos, Nigeria native who first arrived in the United States at the age of 22 in 1981.

Bello was accepted into Howard University, where he was among the minority of males that were outnumbered by their female counterparts, who comprised almost 70 percent of the student body enrolled in the Washington D.C.-based institution.

The future Community Education Council District 32 president aspired to help narrow the gender gap by having a key role in the education of young males.

He indirectly experienced some of the pitfalls associated with failing to obtain a complete education in the U.S., when two of his brothers were forced to travel back to their homeland because of the limited opportunities that were presented to them as a result of not attending college.

After earning a degree in Accounting, the 28-year-old Bello was hired the New York City Department of Finance, where he remains today as a special tax auditor.

He soon became involved in his eldest daughter’s education by becoming part of P.S. 299’s (Bushwick) parent-teacher association, and soon realized that his district wasn’t doing well when it came to giving students real options.

“We didn’t have any middle schools that were any good. I couldn’t send my daughter to any high school in Bushwick,” he recollected.

The area was lacking in special programs offered to students with special skills, such as the Department of Education’s Gifted and Talented program, which provides children with exceptional capacity or creative talent to engage in challenging learning opportunities.

Said Bello: “Gifted and Talented recognizes students’ talents. Not everyone’s the same. We have to recognize that some kids, for whatever reason, are more talented than others in certain areas.”

Bushwick: Then and now

In 1991, Bello purchased a home on Putnam Avenue, but found a number of abandoned homes and drug pushers threatening the well-being of his new community.

The new homeowner took action by voicing his complaints to Community Board 4 Chairperson Nadine Whitted, who advised Bello to form his own block association.

A year later, with the help of City Council members Victor Robles and Martin Dilan, Bello and others from his Putnam Avenue Block Association (covering the area between Central and Wilson avenues) set the wheels in motion to clean up their street and ensure that abandoned homes were occupied.

“People would come and dump garbage on that block. We got rid of the drug dealers,” said Bello. “There are [still] parts of Bushwick where people complain about gangs, but it’s getting better. Crime is way, way down. I have to thank Assemblyman Vito Lopez for building new homes in the area.”

From civic leader to CEC 32

Soon after, Bello was appointed to Community Board 4 in 1994, where he served for eight years—five of which were spent as the co-chair of the Board’s Land Use committee.

He was forced to resign from the community board in 2002 when he was chosen to become the treasurer of Bushwick’s School Board 32.

He was elected as president of the newly-formed CEC 32 two years later and decided to pour his energy into increasing the local high school graduation rate.

Graduation levels have jumped, according to Bello, from 17 percent in 1999 to 42 percent in 2008.

“Most of our children are in levels three and four. We didn’t have that before. This Administration also has to take credit,” he added.

“The Chancellor (Joel Klein) has helped us a lot in Bushwick. He put the Gifted and Talented program in place at I.S. 376 in 2005. Tweed (DOE) has put a lot of money in our schools.”

Moving forward, Bello assures that his group will strive to promote parent involvement in the education of their children.

But while the numbers of mothers attending CEC meetings have risen, male parents are still missing.

One strategy employed by Bello and his fellow CEC members to bring greater numbers to their monthly sessions is through the assignment of student achievement awards.

Three District 32 pupils are routinely honored with plaques recognizing them for their community leadership, outstanding academic achievement and academic improvement.

“Every time I give those kids their awards, you could see their faces light up. You can see how happy they are,” said the community leader. “Some of them bring their grandparents. It brings me great joy every month.”

Goals and accomplishments

In looking back at the progress made in his school district during his tenure as CEC president, Bello was proud that CEC 32 was the first one in New York City to draft a resolution calling for the addition of nurses in all city public schools to help students who may be prone to asthma attacks.

In the matter concerning progress reports, Bello stated his goal of improving the number of schools scoring As or Bs in the district.

DOE-mandated progress reports help parents, teachers and principals learn how their school is performing, while also comparing it with other schools.

According to last year’s progress reports, five of 19 schools (32 percent) in District 32 scored As.

One of those schools, P.S. 296, received an F grade.

Poor attendance was one of the factors that caused the Bushwick school to hit rockbottom.