|NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina|
From Betsy Combier:
It's about Carmen. It's always about Carmen.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña takes questions from parents, educators at packed Bronx forum
From a mother's worries over failing schools to a teacher’s push for mental health services, the city schools boss opened her inbox to more than 500 concerned parents and educators at a packed town hall forum Thursday in the Bronx.
They traveled from as near as Mott Hall Science and Technology in the South Bronx and from as far away as Bushwick, Brooklyn, to drill Chancellor Carmen Fariña on hot-topic issues like the expansion of the city’s gifted and talented programs, teacher evaluations and school performance.
“What are you doing about professional development and abandoning programs that do not work?” Brooklyn teacher Darnese Olivieri demanded to raucous, standing-room-only cheers from fellow teachers in the audience during the “Fight for Their Future” forum co-hosted by the Daily News and the community group Metro IAF.
Q&A with Carmen Fariña from the town hall forum on city schools
Fariña, grappling with a school system that has been struggling for decades, promised to visit an Eva Moscowitz-run Success Academy charter school, gave no opinion on tax credits for kids who leave public schools for private institutions, supported spreading PTA-raised funds from school to school, and said teacher evaluations should be based on a combination of student test scores and peer review.
“I do think the best way to get better is peer review, teacher to teacher, principal to principal,” Fariña said.
The chancellor fielded tough questions from parents, teachers and education advocates about the difficulties of accessing good schools, why bad schoolscontinue to fail, and why some city classrooms are out of control — and she offered to keep listening to parents and teachers.
“I read the Daily News, and in the last forum I was faulted because I didn’t leave my email behind,” she said before producing a large sign with her email address.
“I do believe we need to use test scores for a portion of the evaluations,” Fariña said. “The percentage we use is up for debate. In my opinion, 30% is acceptable.”
Teacher Leton Hall used the open dialogue to ask about mental health services at struggling schools.
“As a teacher, everybody has to pick up the slack for some of these students in troubled situations,” said Hall, 34, a science teacher at the Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy.
Fariña, who touted the addition of 250 counselors earlier this week, agreed that more help is needed.
“All our community schools or after-school programs have to have mentalhealth clinics in their schools, no excuses. We’re looking to see how to use co-location sites so schools can share resources,” she said referring to separate schools housed within one building.
She said her plan was to boost the number of social workers and counselors at schools across the city.
Jessica Franco Ramos, of Brooklyn, brought the charter versus public school debate to the forefront by comparing the level of services available to her daughter, a charter school student, and her brother in public school.
“My daughter is currently a sixth-grader and, day by day, I see how she’s excelling thanks to the support of her teachers,” Ramos said. But her brother, for whom she’s the primary caregiver, struggles to find support and resources at a public school. “When I reached out to his guidance counselor she told me that she had 400 students to work with in addition to him,” she said.
Fariña was clear that she believes improving public schools was the answer, not adding more charters.
“I want to be very clear that there are great charter schools and great public schools,” Fariña responded. The forum followed The News’ hard-hitting “Fight for Their Future” series that focused on issues in public schools across the city.
“The Daily News takes very seriously the coverage of education because we know how important it is to our readers and to the city,” said Daily News Editorial Page Editor Arthur Browne.
The event, moderated by Errol Louis with co-moderator Ben Chapman of The News, was held at the Immaculate Conception School in the heart of the struggling South Bronx School District 7.
The long-foundering education district has the lowest ratio of elementary and middle schoolers proficient in reading, just 10%, and the lowest number of kids proficient in math, only 13%.
Forum participant Tracy Woodall, 44, pulled her kids from District 7 schools after finding the quality of education inconsistent.
“It’s a disconnect, no meetings, no nothing,” Woodall said. “It’s like you’re going from one grade to the next and it’s like going to another school.”
Woodall sends her kids to KIPP Academy charter school in Melrose, a 40-minute trip each way.
“I feel bad being a parent from the Bronx, we shouldn’t have to travel outside our district to find quality education.”