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Brooklyn BP panel appointee says he won't be a yes man

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz named his appointee to the resurrected citywide school board today, choosing a college administrator with a child in the city’s public school system.

Gbubemi Okotieuro, the associate dean for governmental and external relations at Medgar Evers College and the father of a high school senior, said in an interview today that he would be a dedicated member of the Panel for Educational Policy. Describing himself as a parent who has been heavily involved “behind the scenes” in his son’s education, Okotieuro said he would not shy away from voicing his opinions.

“I’m not looking for a fight, God knows I’m not. But if you don’t want a man who can think for himself, I’m not your man,” he said. “Marty and I had a talk, and I was very clear, if you want me for this appointment, I’m going to do what I believe is right for my own son and the other kids out there.”

The panel, which became legally nonexistent when the state Senate refused to renew mayoral control legislation this summer, is slowly being reconstituted now that the law is back in effect. With Markowitz’s appointment, there is one seat that remains to be filled by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. A spokesman for Diaz said he was still interviewing candidates for the position.

Okotieuro, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 from Nigeria and previously taught urban studies at Queens College, became acquainted with Markowitz through his job at Medgar Evers College.

Aware of the panel’s limited influence — its critics call it a “rubber stamp” for Chancellor Joel Klein’s policies — Okotieuro said the opportunity to become more involved was too important to pass up.

“As a parent with a child who’s been going to the public schools for a while, there’s a feeling that you need to get into the fray and be part of the change as opposed to be just being on the sidelines,” he said. “And I felt it was the good time to do this.”

As an administrator at Medgar Evers, Okotieuro said he has seen graduates of the city’s public schools struggle when faced with college-level work. Now that his own son — a musician at the Brooklyn High School of the Arts — is beginning the college application process, Okotieuro said that he would like to focus on improving city high schools’ college preparation.

Though he supports some of Klein’s policies, he said wants to see less of an emphasis placed on test scores, more art programs, and more avenues for parental involvement.

“It’s very difficult to me to tell me that I cannot come over the school once in a while just check in on my kid, just give him $10 for lunch, as an excuse to see the young man. Those sorts of things matter,” he said, adding that he visits his son’s school about once a week.

Mayor Bloomberg has said that the panel’s first order of business will be voting on his proposed plan to end social promotion for fourth and sixth graders. Markowitz has not taken a position on the issue, and Okotieuro said he would reserve judgment until hearing others’ opinions.

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