Public Education

Effective public education, in elementary, middle and high school, is essential to preparing our children for success. The schools of the 39th Council District have some of the city's best teachers, principals and parent leaders, and we need to do everything we can to make sure they are supported in the crucial work that they do.

The democratic promise of our public schools

Nothing is more important to our democracy than strong public schools that offer all kids a genuine opportunity to learn, grow, solve problems, imagine, create, work in teams, get ready for careers, and become citizens of NYC. In just a few short weeks – at 5th grade, 8th grade, and high-school graduations across the district – we’ll have a chance to see and celebrate the magic that happens daily in our public schools.

We’re lucky to have many great schools in District 15. And we’re making some strong steps forward: I’m especially excited about the continued expansion of Pre-K in our community. Next fall, I believe that the majority of four-year-olds in our neighborhoods will be served in free, high-quality, public Pre-K programs. 

Still, we’ve got a long way to go to fulfill the true democratic promise of public education. Across NYC, too many of our schools aren’t providing kids with the education they need. And as you’ve been reading in the news, we are still grappling with many public policy issues (though most of these are set, for better or worse, at the state level) from mayoral control to high-stakes testing to the charter school cap.

I won’t go into all of those here – but I did want to fill you in on some of the work my office has been doing in recent days to strengthen our City’s schools: confronting segregation & improving diversity, re-imagining the middle-school admissions process, the PTA 5k fun-run-for-schools, school crossing guards, and more: Read more »

City Council Passes “School Diversity Accountability Act”

New law will require NYC Department of Education to provide detailed demographic data & steps it is taking to advance diversity in NYC schools, Seen as strong tool for advocates confronting school segregation.

NEW YORK – Today, the New York City Council voted to pass new policies designed to confront segregation and increase diversity in NYC public schools. Read more »

City Council, Advocates Ask Mayor for School Crossing Guard at Every Dangerous Intersection

Elected Officials, Advocates, School Community Members respond to Mayor’s Lack of Attention for School Crossing Guards in Executive Budget, Demand Better Job Quality for City’s Valuable Public Servants

NEW YORK--Today on the steps of City Hall, City Council Member Brad Lander, and Chair of the Committee on Public Safety Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, along with other elected officials, labor leaders, street safety advocates and representatives from the school community called on Mayor de Blasio to address the lack of school crossing guards at dangerous intersections across the city, and poor job quality that makes it difficult to keep positions filled. Read more »

A better middle school admissions process?

As past, present and soon-to-be 5th graders and their parents know, the current “middle school choice” admissions process for District 15 (and more broadly in NYC) can be stressful, frustrating, and feel unfair. Around this time of year, I often hear from parents that the process is confusing, demoralizing, too heavily based on screening, and amplifies the problems of segregation.

Before we start the process again next year, we wanted to work together with some of our partners to have a community conversation about the issue, and what changes you believe are necessary. Read more »

Schools, Libraries, and Our Charity

As one of the "spirited Brooklynites" who spent last weekend running (and even helping to organize) the Brooklyn PTA 5K Fun Run for Public Schools, and then Biking the Branches in support of the Brooklyn Public Library, I completely agree with Liza Featherstone's critique in this article: that we must not come to view our schools and libraries as "charities," but as fundamental public institutions that we have a duty to robustly (and more equally) support with our tax dollars. AND that we are not doing so. AND especially not in the case of NYC's public libraries. AND that this is a real shortcoming of the budget that Mayor de Blasio put forward this week (which cuts the expense budget of the 3 library systems $10 million from last year, and includes only a scant & largely illusory increase of capital funding).

For what it's worth, though, I do think events like the PTA 5K, and Bike the Branches -- and even more participatory budgeting (PBNYC) -- can be a fundamental part of efforts to "fight privatization, not revel in it," as Featherstone rightly demands. Read more »

More crossing guards, less testing, and hordes of runners!

All year parents at the new pre-K program at Bishop Ford have been concerned about the dangerous intersection at 10th Avenue & 19th Street – where hundreds of 4 year-olds cross every day with no crossing guard. So I’m happy to announce that due to our combined efforts (with help from City Hall and the 72nd Precinct), a crossing guard will be stationed there starting today.

But this is a problem that exists across the city. School crossing guards are some of NYC’s most essential workers – but we don’t have enough to keep all our kids safe, so many dangerous intersections are uncovered.

Read more »

City Council Hearing: Finding Ways Forward to Confront Segregation and Increase Diversity In NYC’s Schools

Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal is inherently unequal,” New York’s public schools are among the most segregated in the country. On December 11, 2014, the New York City Council took a stark look at issues of school segregation and diversity – in a day-long hearing that I worked with Education Committee Chair Danny Dromm to convene. The hearing was contentious at times (you can view the whole 9-hour video here), but pointed to some concrete ways forward.

Public schools are, for me, our most important democratic institutions – the mechanism by which all our children are supposed to receive an opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.  Segregated schools communicate an enormous amount to our kids about what sort of society we really value. Taking real steps to confront school segregation is necessary if we care about the core democratic principal of equal opportunity. Read more »

Steps Forward Toward More Diverse Schools

Last spring, our community held a forum at John Jay Educational Campus to address issues of segregation in our public schools – and to look at what steps we can take toward schools that better reflect the diversity of our city. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, we learned that New York’s schools are the most segregated in the country. But we also learned that schools, districts (especially District 1, 3, and 13), and advocates across New York City are working hard to make change.

At that meeting, the District 15 Community Education Council (who co-sponsored the event with Council Member Carlos Menchaca and me) announced its new CEC 15 Resolution on Diversity. That resolution called on the DOE to prioritize diversity, especially when establishing the admissions policy for new schools.

So I’m pleased to report that this week, we made a small but meaningful step forward. The DOE agreed to an admissions plan – suggested by the community – for the new “PS/IS 437” (in Kensington) that will strengthen diversity, include a new middle school, and promote collaboration.

Read more »

Reflections from a 5th grade graduation

It’s sentimental, and yet deeply true: for me, there is no better celebration of American democracy than a 5th grade public school graduation, rooted in the idea that every single student has the potential to achieve their goals, and the right to get a real opportunity to try.

If we want a democratic society – inspired by the ideals of equality, of opportunity, of fairness, of creativity, of stewardship for future generations, of commitment to the common good – a good starting place is to celebrate and recommit to what can happen in our public schools. Read more »

A Strong Step Forward for Our Kids, Teachers, Parents, Schools ... and City

I’m very enthusiastic about the preliminary contract agreement announced today between the de Blasio Administration and the United Federation of Teachers. I believe it provides a framework to improve our schools, support teachers, encourage innovation, and better include parents.

As a public school parent, I have a deep appreciation for what our teachers do. This contract shows respect for their craft, streamlines an overly cumbersome evaluation process, and treats them fairly – while at the same time achieving savings in health care and attending to the real fiscal constraints our city faces. Read more »