The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators hosted a forum Jan. 26 where seven Democratic mayoral candidates were pressed on their stands on continuing mayoral control of the schools, removing School Safety Agents from the Police Department’s oversight, integrating schools and other key issues.
The virtual event, which was moderated by David Bloomfield, a Professor of Educational Leadership at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, posed questions to the mayoral hopefuls that were submitted by Principals, Assistant Principals and other school administrators.
Inequities Loom Large
One thread connecting many of the issues raised was the dilemma of how to eliminate longstanding inequities in education, which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Shaun Donovan, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Administration, stated that closing the achievement gap was his main educational priority, and he argued that increasing diversity among educators was an important part of accomplishing this. He pointed out that while more than 80 percent of city public-school students were black, Asian or Latino, just 40 percent of Teachers were people of color.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that having more-experienced Teachers was essential to ensuring students received a good education, and favored creating a Teacher residency program that would help combat high turnover rates.
More than 71,000 students were at risk of getting failing grades that would prevent them from advancing to the next grade level because of the coronavirus. To help students who have fallen behind in their learning because of the shift to remote-learning, Wall Street executive Raymond McGuire proposed creating a tutoring corps.
Social Workers Needed
Mr. Donovan noted that students have not only struggled in their studies, many have also suffered emotionally during these past 10 months. He stated that if elected, he planned to hire an additional 150 Social Workers.
With school budgets shrinking because of the pandemic, many Principals were worried about further loss of resources.
Maya Wiley, a former Counsel to Mayor de Blasio and ex-chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, believed that funding should be diverted from the NYPD to benefit schools.
Mr. Stringer, on the other hand, argued that the fat should be trimmed from the Department of Education’s headquarters, pointing out that whenever Deputy Chancellors or other executive staff were hired, they brought along an entire team of aides.
“I’ve done the audits, I’ve seen where the DOE wastes money,” he said.
Cite Pay Inequities
The CSA also represents Directors at early childhood centers, which have longstanding pay inequities since staff working in those centers made less than their counterparts who are employed directly by the DOE. Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said a career path needed to be established for day-care staff, who are predominantly women of color.
“It is a two-pronged imperative to make sure we’re improving early child-care,” she said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams commended Mayor de Blasio for launching 3K and Pre-K programs, but argued that the city needed to go a step further.
“Education is not K-12, it’s prenatal through career,” he said.
While most of the candidates agreed with the Mayor’s decision to eliminate the test given to 4-year-olds to gain admission to the gifted-and-talented program and screens for middle-school admissions, Andrew Yang argued that screens should be preserved for now.
“I think it’s a mistake to get rid of screening systems without knowing what comes next,” he said.
This past summer, the city announced that it would shift control of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the DOE, a response to advocates calling for the removal of police from schools. The move has been criticized by the head of the union representing those employees, Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who has pointed out that 23 years ago the Agents were transferred from the school-system's jurisdiction because the program was rife with patronage and training was inadequate.
While the candidates contended that there was a tough balance to strike between overpolicing students and protecting schools, Mr. Donovan called for School Safety Agents to be transitioned into what he called Positivity, Prevention, Relationships and Response Coordinators trained in de-escalation.
Many education advocates, including the United Federation of Teachers, are also pushing to reform mayoral control. And while the candidates believed that it should be extended rather than allowing oversight of schools to return to the decentralized state that preceded it, many agreed there needed to be more input from educators and parents.
No Encore for Carranza?
One issue that all of the candidates aligned on was that they were unlikely to retain Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who has been viewed by critics as an ideologue rather than an educator.
Ms. Garcia said she would pick someone from the education world who was “not seeking a platform.”
“There was some good TV-watching in the search for Chancellors,” she said, likely alluding to Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho—Mr. de Blasio’s first pick for Chancellor—backing out of the job during a livestreamed school board meeting in 2018.
Ms. Wiley said that she liked Mr. Carranza, but because of his association with Mr. de Blasio, she’d likely choose someone else “in order to restore trust.”
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