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Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Farina in Queens

Mayor & Chancellor in Queens Town Hall about Public Schools

November 16, 2015 / Jackson Heights Neighborhood / Bronx Public Schools NYC / Queens Buzz NYC.

mayor de blasio queens public schools nycThere was a town hall at PS 69 in Jackson Heights Thursday evening where NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Public Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina talked about what they are doing to reform the NYC public school system to improve both teachers' and students' performance.

I arrived a bit late, following the coverage of a gig nearby. There was a small crowd of a couple dozen people waiting to get in because the auditorium had been filled to a standing room only crowd. Over the course of the evening all the folks who waited long enough were able to enter, as I confirmed this with the police contingent on my way out.

As I entered the auditorium they had just completed the presentation portion of the program [I think about a half hour, possibly less] and they were moving on to taking questions and answers from the audience.

I video recorded most of the session, and then edited down as much as I could to shorten the viewing time required to get the gist of what they've done and are planning for the future.

All in all it was a very interesting and very informative session. I spoke to quite a few folks after the town hall and generally they were pretty positive, including a number of folks who did not vote for de Blasio. Essentially most believed that the Mayor and Chancellor were trying to correct the failings of the system and that they were taking an intelligent approach. Several mentioned that the Mayor seemed pretty honest in his assessments of things.

For me, one of the most important things I learned tonight, was why getting universal Pre-K was so important. Essentially the thinking goes that the earlier you are able to start working with these kids, the more you will be able to prepare them for school, and hopefully reap the benefits of teaching them the joy of learning throughout their stay in the public school system.

Click here to read our full report including a segmented video about Mayor de Blasio on NYC public schools with Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina and NYC Councilmember Daniel Dromm.


Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Farina in Queens

Mayor & Chancellor in Queens Town Hall about Public Schools

November 16, 2015 / Jackson Heights Neighborhood / Bronx Public Schools NYC / Queens Buzz NYC. Continued.

Enabling Parents to Learn English Thru After-School Programs

Another effort that came out in the Question & Answer session is how they are adding after school programs for adults so that they can bootstrap the parents into the system by enabling them to learn English, thus also empowering them to help themselves and their children with their homework. That's the thinking behind the extended library hours too. And we were told that any child in middle school is now guaranteed a place in after school programs.

Spending Extra Time with Kids when they are Young & New to School so they Don't have to do Remedial Later

And they have added reading and other teaching specialists to the schools at the earlier grade levels so that these kids will go on through the system better equipped and better educated, making them better students and enabling better performance, while providing teachers with a more rewarding teaching experience.

Stopping the Hemorrhagging of Good Teachers caused by Uncertainty created by Prior Administration

They also noted that a lot of high quality teaching professionals exited the NYC Public School system during the prior Administration years. The exiting teachers said they did not feel they were valued and they did not see any upward professional mobility within the NYC Public School System. We were told that the NYC Public School system was hemorrhaging great teachers as a result.

Adding & Enhancing Teacher Professional Development & Enabling a Career Path to Attract & Retain Good Teachers

To correct this the Administration has initiated new teacher training / professional development programs with the aim of enabling people working in the schools to be eligible to compete for vacant positions up the ladder. And they have begun incorporating more feedback from teachers in setting the agendas for weekly meetings and by providing them with options to apply for teaching positions at schools they feel are more in sync with their own teaching style. They have also begun evaluating items in the curriculum that teachers want changed, to provide teachers with more flexibility in how they approach / teach a subject.

Changing the Role of Testing within the Public School System

They talked about the changing role of testing in the schools. During the Bush / Bloomberg years testing was given what they believe was a disproportionate weighting and was skewing the whole system toward performing on the tests instead of teaching the kids how to read, write, calculate, think analytically and learn other subjects. The emphasis was to prep for tests since the test scores were disproportionately used to make decisions like closing schools, evaluating teachers and deciding whether to promote kids.

There's a Real Threat of Losing State & Federal Funding if too many Students Opt Out of Tests

They said that they understood why parents were opting out of tests, but that in doing so they are jeopardizing federal funding. Therefore they would like parents not to opt out, but rather re-channel their energies into getting the role of testing in the system changed. They believed that there's been a sea change in people's view of testing at both the state and federal levels, and that change should begin to come about. But they also said that at the municipal level they have already changed how tests are used to evaluate teachers and students and schools.

Maintaining School Safety While Managing Down the Disparities

They talked about the improvements made by the prior Administration with respect to school safety and, while cognizant that there's still some disparities in the system, they want to balance how they manage security so as not to throw the baby [improved security] out with the bathwater [disciplinary bias]. One of the initiatives in this area was to seek to find a more standardized approach to discipline, specifically what constitutes insubordination, so that the rules are standard and enforced evenly throughout the entire system.

Now Have Plan to Reduce NYC Public Schools Overcrowding & Eliminate Trailers

And they also talked about school overcrowding and trailers. The prior Administration did not have an approach nor a plan to eliminate trailers while the new Administration does. They have allocated about $4 billion over the next five years to that end, and they were sanguine in telling the audience that $4 billion is still not enough. They asked people to help them find space and to work through their City Councilmember when they see space become available, as perhaps NYC can bid on it and secure it for the public school system. A recent acquisition of the White Castle on 69th Street and 34th Avenue was cited as a mix of community and government working together.

Efforts to Mitigate Effects of Trailers on Learning

They said while the trailers are going to remain in place for a while, they are taking steps to address the problem with trailers as classrooms. Specifically the size of classes, the quality of the education given, and security. Hence they are adding specialists to help students in trailer classes, they are trying to reduce those class sizes, and they are also seeking to acquire new schools. They noted that the NYC pubic school system is way behind in this initiative and that hence, given the real estate and financial realities, it will take time to set things right.

Goal is to Restore Faith & Opportunity for Quality Education in Public Schools not replace with Charter Schools

Charter schools came up with one audience member asking for more space for them. The Mayor said that the entire system is challenged for space and that they will work with those charter organizations that are working collaboratively to lift up everyone, not just a few. The Mayor went on to say that he thought that it was unacceptable situation that people should want to go to charters because they don't have faith in the existing public schools. And that the goal must be to restore the performance of the public schools, so that charters aren't used to circumvent it and siphon off the performing kids and leave the rest of the kids and schools behind.

Thanks & Appreciation

And, as always, thanks for your interest in taking the time to learn about and understand the issues facing the community, so that you can make informed decisions about what to do about them and who you want to represent you in the government.

Jefferson said that "Eternal vigilance is the price of democracy" and "those who think they can remain ignorant and free, believe in something that never was and never will be".

The following tells you where in the video [based on time] that you can zero in on comments made by Mayor de Blasio & NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina regarding what they are doing to address NYC Public Schools issues.

NYC Schools Video

Time / Subject Discussed

0.20 - New school buildings. To find new public school sites, they need community help.

1.00 - Mayor - adding new charters vs fixing public schools - it's not an acceptable situation that folks want to go to charters because they don't have faith in the public schools.

2.30 - Plan to go from 20K to 65K kids in Pre K and double kids in after school programs at the middle school level. Kids are guaranteed an after school seat if they are in middle school because of Mayoral control.

3.20 - Administration committed to obtaining CEC's input, but that doesn't mean there will always be agreement.

4.20 - Schools Chancellor Farina meets w/ CEC's monthly on weekends, so no interruptions and now meeting w/ CPACs.

6.00 - Teacher comments regarding empowering teachers and being treated as professionals. Mayor - can't have successful school system w/o recruiting, training, empowering, promoting and retaining successful teachers.

7.00 - Trailers for public schools will take years to address. The Administration has allocated one half billion / $4 billion to addressing the problem and it's still not enough.

8.00 - Deputy Mayor - Empower immigrants and their children by helping them learn English so they can help kids w/ homework. Community schools [130 of them] offer after school services and adult education programs. Understand that kids who come to school with right nutrition, right support & stable households, are more likely to succeed when they arrive at school. Knocked on 35,000 doors last summer to reach the parents from those schools.

9.15 - Community schools adding adult literacy programs so parents can help kids w/ homework.

9.50 - Mayor - lost talented teachers under prior Admin because of the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the prior Administration changes.

10.30 - Audience Person - comments regarding school security guards. Don't want police in schools. Can bring back the 5,000 SSA's? Mayor - progress made toward safer schools using the NYPD. Working to rebalance by enabling school leadership to participate in security effort.

12.00 - Schools Chancellor Farina - Have retrained safety officers so more friendly with the students. Working with the NYPD ongoing.

13.00 - Teacher says they left because restricted and unable to grow under prior Admin. Didn't like the scripted, Pearson, Ready-Gen curriculum. What is the Admin doing to promote a better teaching environment?

14.00 - Mayor & Chancellor - more training programs for teachers. Improve quality of the students by getting them started in Universal Pre-K. Adding reading programs in the early grades for the same reason - so teachers will have better students to work with. Effort to have more kids who are ready to learn.

14.30 - Want to train and prepare teachers within the system to move up in the organization, rather than have to recruit from outside as done by the prior Admin. They said they believe those familiar with the system should be more knowledgeable about how to manage and improve it.

15.00 - Schools Chancellor Farina - now have Monday meeting agendas that include input from teachers. Teachers can now apply to work at schools where they think the school philosophy is more in line with their own teaching style. Rewrote Ready Gen materials with Pearson to be more open ended. More flexible system.

16.00 - Schools Chancellor Farina - Pre K curriculum is all about play. Joy. Learning.

16.25 - Student - suspensions and arrests in schools are down, but still skewed toward Black and Latinos. Trying to balance safety with fairness and working to establish standards for discipline.

17.20 - Schools Chancellor Farina - Sends team to schools with safety issues to better understand what's going on. Trying to establish exactly what constitutes insubordination.

18.00 - $3.5 Billion for new capacity and another $500 million for class size reduction [aka trailers] and admittedly not enough, but don't have more than $4 Billion over the next five years. Translates into 1,500 new seats in District 30, but we know it's still not enough.

18.50 - So given realities, still trying to address parents' concerns by lower class size so kids get attention they deserve and that the environment is safe. Also adding reading specialists. This should enhance the quality of the 2nd & 3rd grade classes.

20.00 - Have money problem and space issue to provide enough in facilities.

20.20 - Schools Chancellor Farina - more staff. Classes that are oversized will be given an added teaching professional or extra leave time to enable to work w/ kids.

21.00 - Mayor - reality is that while $4 Billion is big increase, it's still not enough. The $8 Billion surplus isn't a surplus, it's to provide a cushion in event of economic downturns when federal and state governments close the door.

22.15 - Affordable Housing effort is to enable people to stay in the neighborhoods that they live in - that they are currently being priced out [of]. So parents can keep their kids in the schools they in which they began.

23.20 - CCM Dromm is advocating for a task force. But that said that at least now there's a plan to get kids out of trailers, whereas there wasn't any plan during the prior Admin.

24.30 - Teacher asks about stand on high stakes testing. Mayor says still against high stakes testing. The de Blasio Administration has moved away from high stakes testing, but there are budget realities tied to those tests, so don't want parents to opt out or NYC will lose funding from the state and federal government.

25.00 - Have changed how the tests are used vs prior Administration. Don't grade schools anymore, changed weight given for how kids are promoted to next grade, and how tests are used in admissions. Want to reduce reliance of system on tests. But must change Albany's reliance on high stakes testing in lieu of opting out them [or will lose funding].

26.15 - Kindred spirit for sentiment of opting out. But opting out has a real impact on money received for education from State and Federal government by the NYC public school system - if too many students opt out.

27.00 - Schools Chancellor Farina - working w/ new NYS Education Commissioner and optimistic there will be change. Don't agree w/ test prep. Believe that good teaching is test prep.

27.45 - Making changes to how tests used - for example working to get results of tests, so that kids, parents and teachers can use these test results to figure out how they can improve. Previously teachers didn't have access to that information.

28.15 - Schools Chancellor Farina - That said, kids need to be tested, but believe no more than 30% of evaluations should be based on tests.

Thanks & Appreciation To Mayor de Blasio, Schools Chancellor Farina & NYC Councilmember Dromm

And, as always, thanks for your interest in taking the time to learn about and understand the issues facing the community, so that you can make informed decisions about what to do about them and who you want to represent you in the government. Without people like you, democracy cannot work.

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