Back Room Smoke - Underworld Legacy
A Column by Herb Cohen
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Word is he took advantage of some the shifting morals of the Eastern bloc after the fall of the Wall, but then rediscovered his soul. Ask him if this is true and he just gets a sparkle in his eye and says, “I like questions. Ask me another.”

One thing’s for certain, Sakharov has become one of the city’s biggest fans, and a huge advocate for the youth of this crumbling city. He’s built gymnasiums in the Houston Street area so that, rather than running with gangs, kids are now running up court in vigorous games of round ball. And he’s built a dance studio where young girls learn the finer points of double dutch, hip-hop, and some new-fangled stuff called ballet.

Now Sakharov is taking on the city’s education system.

Last night he invited the city’s biggest VIPs and most prestigious glitterati to an open house for his salvo against the complacency of public schools.

Say hello to the Andrew Jackson Charter School. Built in the Maple and Cherry street neighborhood, it’s a shiny jewel in a slab of the city notorious for crackhouses, hookers, and gangs. In fact, as the mayor chowed down caviar with movie stars and models next to the new playground equipment, right across the street, a prostitute brazenly plied her trade out in the open.

“I grew up in Minsk’s worst neighborhoods, plagued by poverty and oppressed by communists and soldiers. I was beaten by bullies trying to steal scraps from me,” said Sakharov in a rare peak into his past. “I would have become a criminal or just another statistic if it wasn’t for a neighbor who gave me a volume of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Translated into Russian, of course. That book stirred my imagination and a desire for knowledge. I decided I deserved a better life.”

Sakharov has succeeded in securing that better life. “I knew I had to pass on my legacy to the next generation. The Andrew Jackson Charter School is part of this legacy.”

The charter school, although open to any child in the city, focuses on children who are most often left behind by the system. The school reaches out to children from broken homes, latchkey children who are a breath away from being the next crime statistic.

The classes don’t mollycoddle the students. First graders start learning Mandarin Chinese, and eigth graders learn the basics of pre-calculus. The staff members all hold Ph. D’s, a Sakharov prerequisite.

Free tuition, with the city picking up the tab on orders from the state, is just the icing on the cake.

The school also will reward 20 students who are deemed “academically deserving” with a six-week summer trip to Minsk. The children will tour the local sites and museums of that Belarussian metropolis and visit Sakharov’s mountain retreat, complete with tennis courts, swimming pools, and soccer fields.

“I want the children to see the world that is beyond these streets,” says Sakharov.

Even before the doors open, the school is already a success. Ninety-eight percent of the students enrolled are coming from the surrounding three blocks of Cherry and Maple.

Vladimir Sakharov has long been a mover and shaker in the world economy. Now it looks like Metrocity’s schools should be shaking because they have some serious competition.

...And that’s the backroom smoke.

This is the backroom smoke…  Metrocity’s schools are in shambles. The superintendent and a handful of aging city teachers are the only ones singing the praises of our educational system.

One third of the families in Metrocity that are over the poverty level send their children to private schools.

For the families that are below the poverty level, the city schools continue to hold a death grip over their poor souls. They have nowhere else to go, and their only choice seems to be flunk out or drop out.

Enter a well-spoken, Eastern European businessman with the heart of a philanthropist and a fuzzy past, who is willing to set things right in the city. Vladimir Sakharov is a wealthy man, he’ll tell you so. How he made his money, however, he won’t tell.

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The Metrocity Times - Bloom of the Stogie City
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