To: "'Mark Levine'"
Subject: Parents must fight for a voice in our schools
Date: Mon, 15 May 2006 22:09:08 -0400
Friends, In case you missed it, below is my latest piece from this
week's Manhattan Times.
PARENTS MUST FIGHT FOR A VOICE IN OUR SCHOOLS
By Mark D. Levine
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
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 Le adership 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 wildly-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 CEC6@BOE.net) to get involved
in one of their issue task forces. This is the only way we can make
sure that in the coming years parents, and our kids, are not left
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Mark D. Levine
255 Cabrini Blvd., 1J
New York, NY 10040
check out my blog on local politics: www.MarkDLevine.com