A group of parent representatives from our district came to Albany recently to share their concerns about education and the effects of mayoral control. I came away from this meeting with a clear sense that parents are frustrated and angered by the DOE’s inability to really listen to them.
The Mayor convinced everyone including myself that his system of parent advocates and small academies would initiate a new era in New York City’s Education. Parents would have a voice in how their children were educated. We voted to give the Mayor control but from where I sit good intentions are not enough.
I listened to parents tell first hand about the essential need for smaller class sizes, full day pre-k, and solutions to high drop out rates, lack of space, and gang violence.
When it comes to funding for facilities I think parents need to know that the more they are involved in the process the more they will acquire for their school. For example, the legislature has provided $11.3 billion dollars for the New York City School Construction Authority. Parents need to take an active role in how that money is spent. Parents need to ask Chancellor Klein about his plans for school modernization and improvement.
New York City receives most of the state’s pre-k funding. Once again, how the Department of Education chooses to utilize this money should reflect the desires of the parents in our districts.
The issue of gang violence is one I take seriously. One parent shared a story about a nine-year-old boy who had been bullied so frequently at school he felt his only recourse was to bring a gun to school. Thankfully this incident did not end in violence. I heard from parents who were scared too because gangs are recruiting children at the elementary level. While wonderful organizations like the Council for Unity have made great strides it appears there is still much to be done.
As a legislator, I want to empower parents with the tools they need whether it is funding for full-day pre-k, or new buildings and renovation, or solutions to gang violence problems. I think that initially Mayoral Control was a great idea because it allowed parents to be directly involved with the Department of Education as members of Community Education Councils. This grassroots effort still has great potential. We must make it easier to serve on CECs.
The task of restructuring a system as vast as the New York City Public School system not only requires vision but perseverance. We must have patience and remember that the DOE should not act alone but should be tempered by parent involvement and state government oversight. The language adopted in the New York State Budget to address smaller class sizes is an important step.