Sunday, April 30, 2006

Parents must fight for a voice in our schools

With the New York City public schools nearing the end of their fourth full year under the control of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, it is increasingly clear that one constituency is being left behind: parents.

The 32 Community Education Councils (CECs) which replaced the old local School Boards throughout the city give their parent leaders virtually zero formal power. At the individual school level, the once-active School Leadership Teams, which bring together staff, parents, and administrators, have had their duties steadily curtailed. The parent coordinator position created in every school four years ago has largely been a disappointment.

These and other policies, part of the Chancellor’s aggressive move towards centralization, have left parents with little direct say in how our public schools are run at the very moment when the system is undergoing their most profound changes in a generation.

But as Josh Karan, a member of our District 6 CEC, explains, “there is one power which can not be taken away, it can only be abdicated: the power to organize.” Here Uptown we’ve proven this theory with some big successes—and a few shortcomings.

Last month a successful grassroots organizing effort under the leadership of the CEC marshaled new data, built a broad coalition, and held a major community-wide forum on the chronic problem of overcrowding in District 6 schools. As a result, the Department of Education has finally started to inch away from its plainly mistaken position that our community has a declining number of children and thus needs no additional schools beyond those already budgeted.

Other important victories won by parent activists include the creation of a widely-successful alternative school program, the Hamilton Heights Academy, housed at PS28 on 155th Street. (Despite a four-year track record of success, however, DOE has so far stubbornly refused to grant the Academy the autonomy and additional resources that would come with official school status.) Inspired by the work of the Hamilton Heights parents, a group farther north successfully launched the Washington Heights Academy two years ago. And now an active coalition in Inwood is looking to create a new school of its own.

Despite these accomplishments, parent activism in District 6 remains far too limited. The CEC has actually had trouble filling all its seats, recently hitting a low point when 6 of 11 slots were vacant. Of the 36 schools in our District, at best half have functioning parents associations. Even at schools with the most engaged PAs, usually no more than 5% of parents attend monthly meetings.

It will take dramatically increased involvement—and smart organizing—if we hope to push DOE into action on the most critical challenges facing our district: the need for smaller class sizes, universal pre-Kindergarten, and improved services for English-learners, to name a few. And then there’s the mother of all educational battles looming on the horizon: the pending reauthorizing of mayoral control of the schools after the current law expires in 2009. Forces on all sides are already gearing up to influence the design of the system’s next incarnation, and parents will have to unite to make sure our voices are heard in this debate.

So make a point of going to your school’s next PA meeting. And, parent or not, reach out to the CEC (by emailing to get involved in one of the task forces now assembling to take on the key issues. This is the only way we can make sure that in the coming years parents, and our kids, are not left behind.


Blogger dwainingals85030146 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never heard of you.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Asia said...

As a teacher and parent I strongly agree with you. My daughter will be 3 in October and I am frantically researching the best schools which they seem to be very limited in our neighborhood.

4:23 PM  

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