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January 9, 2015
After Success Academy nixes plan for LES school, parents add to opposition at makeshift hearing
After the city abruptly canceled a hearing Wednesday night, District 1 parents hosted one on their own, focused on their opposition to the possibility of Success Academy opening a school in the area in the future.
November 7, 2013
LES school diversity study raises questions about "dezoning"
A group of urban planners have validated what some teachers and parents on the Lower East Side say they've been watching over the last decade: Schools in the neighborhood are growing more segregated. The planners say they can't explain the changes, but local parents blame the Department of Education's emphasis on districtwide choice for allowing the neighborhood's schools to become increasingly segregated, in an arrangement that researchers say is not good for students of any race or class. Some parents have even lobbied against the department's proposals to "dezone" other districts, in some cases helping sway other parent leaders away from agreeing to admissions rules like District 1's. What the parents are trying to prevent are more stories like the Lower East Side's, where there is potential for school diversity but students instead increasingly attend schools where their classmates are very much like themselves. A damning report A few blocks apart in the Lower East Side, the Neighborhood School is 40.6 percent white, while P.S. 142, just a few blocks away, is 2.8 percent white. More than a decade ago, a gap that size didn't exist.
April 3, 2013
Leonie Haimson exits public school parenting but not advocacy
Leonie Haimson at a rally last month outside of the Tweed Courthouse. Leonie Haimson's career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch. But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took. Many of Haimson’s close friends and colleagues in the parent advocacy world have known for months about the change in her status. But she did not make it known publicly until today, after learning that GothamSchools planned to disclose the information in a story. “I myself don’t think it is either particularly interesting or relevant,” she wrote in a post on the blog she started in 2007, NYC Public School Parents, before going on to explain the choice. "It is a parent’s responsibility to find a school that they believe best fits their children’s needs," Haimson wrote in a statement she sent to GothamSchools before publishing her own post. The disclosure caught some other advocates off guard. "I'm surprised," said Sheila Kaplan, a student data privacy advocate who has worked with Haimson in recent months. “She’s never said anything about her kids being in private schools.” After shaping much of her identity around her role as a public school parent, decamping from the city’s public schools puts Haimson in a delicate situation. It also opens her up to questions from her many opponents in the polarized education policy debate.
February 7, 2012
Charter parents' inclusion call yields a bill but not city support
Charter Parent Action Network Director Valerie Babb addresses charter school parents and students in Albany. (Photo courtesy of the New York City Charter School Center) An annual caravan of charter school parents to Albany took place today with a specific mission: convince legislators to approve a bill allowing charter parents to run for the city's local parent councils. It's a battle that charter advocates will have to fight without the Department of Education's help. The city has never supported allowing charter parents to run for parent councils, even as it has encouraged the proliferation of charter schools and allowed them to operate in district space. State law requires that each school district in the city field an elected parent council, known as a Community Education Council, to provide an avenue for parents to weigh in on schools policy. Some of the council's duties, such as presiding over public hearings about co-locations, involve charter school issues. But the Bloomberg administration has constrained the councils' authority and their only statutory function is to redraw school zone lines, which do not affect charter schools. They do not actually approve or reject co-locations. Still, the CECs are seen as one of the few formal venues for parents to voice opinions about department policies, and charter school parents see the exclusion as an equity issue. They have convinced two legislators — Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, and State Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn — to introduce a bill that would reserve one of the 11 seats on each council for a charter parent. "In order to protect our children and their continued access to a great public education, charter parents need and deserve a seat at the table to help inform the decisions about the schools in their neighborhoods," said Valerie Babb, director of the Charter Parents Action Network, in a statement. "By supporting this legislation, our lawmakers will send a strong signal to families that their voices carry just as much weight as other public school parents in their districts."
October 25, 2011
Advocates fuel school-by-school preemptive effort on closures
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin at a preemptive rally against the closure of P.S. 137. Education activists continued their preemptive assault against the city's school closure policy today. No closure announcements have been made yet this year, but the Department of Education has already alerted 20 elementary and middle schools that they could be closed due to low performance. And some of those schools have begun pushing back. The tour began last week in Bedford-Stuyvesant at P.S. 256 and resumed today on the Lower East Side at P.S. 137, a declining school that received an F on its most recent progress report. Just after dismissal this afternoon, about two dozen parents and their children sounded a familiar protest: Budget cuts and a history of neglect are failing P.S. 137 students, not their teachers or Principal Melissa Rodriguez. That argument matches what two advocacy groups that are behind the early organizing efforts, the Alliance for Quality for Education and Coalition of Educational Justice, have been saying for years. Arguing that struggling schools would be better served by additional resources, the groups oppose all school closures. This fall, they expect to stage more protests at other schools on the DOE's "early engagement" list, according to Julian Vinocur of AQE.
June 23, 2011
For newly-freed charter schools, different paths to dismissal
The three schools released from the UFT and NAACP lawsuit this week followed different paths to legal freedom. The case for one of the schools relied on a broad base of community support, but a single man, Geoffrey Canada, made the case for the other two schools. Charter school advocates believe Canada's profile as a well-regarded, African-American education reformer made him an unpopular target for the NAACP. They say the decision to drop these schools from the lawsuit, which charges that the co-locations give preferential treatment to charter school students, weren't made on legal merits. "It makes it pretty clear that it’s not about equity. It's not about the children," said Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, whose new school in Bedford-Stuyvesant is named in the suit. "This is about politics." Girls Preparatory Academy was unique from the other 17 schools named in the suit because its co-location plan had already received widespread community support. At the initial public hearing in February, both of the schools' leaders endorsed co-location, as did Lisa Donlan, the district's Community Education Council president and a frequent charter school critic. “There was not one person who opposed this co-location,” Donlan said.
December 10, 2009
LES schools land exemption from city-wide kindergarten rules
Lower East Side parents who want to ensure their pre-k students stay in the same school for kindergarten will now be able to do so, though a citywide policy bans schools from giving admissions preference to their own pre-k students. Parents in Manhattan's District 1 have been lobbying for the exemption for more than a year. The district's parent council, elected officials and the Department of Education have hammered out a nearly-final deal, presented to parents at a public meeting last night. Last school year the DOE began barring schools from giving admissions preference to students already enrolled in their own pre-k programs. Lisa Donlan, the president of the parent's council, said that the policy ran counter to the district's historical commitment to having full-day pre-k programs that are considered fully integrated into the school's culture, whereas many districts have half-day pre-k programs that are almost considered separate from the school itself.
October 1, 2009
District parent council invites charter parents to their ranks
In a move that could shake up the debate over school space, a mix of charter and district parents is pushing to bring charter school parents into local school districts' parents councils. Such a change would mark a significant departure from charter schools' separation from the traditional school district. It could also change the dynamics of the thorny debate over school space. Last year, a group of community education councils sued the Department of Education for trying to convert a district school into a charter school. Members of District 1's Community Education Council said at their meeting last night that they would welcome a charter parent representative onto the board, even though there is no formal mechanism for doing so. "We consider ourselves representatives of all of the parents in the schools," council president Lisa Donlan said in an interview today. "It's really all about building bridges and finding common ground and finding ways to work together."
June 5, 2009
Weingarten's critics speculate about her mayoral control motives
We've reported that people are upset with Randi Weingarten for her school governance position. But we haven't reported the various reasons they're suggesting for why the teachers union president is not joining mayoral control's fiercest critics in their push for major changes to the law. Arthur Goldstein, a teacher who was recently elected to be the union chapter leader for his Queens school, speculated that President Obama's preference for mayoral control could have influenced Weingarten. "It could indeed be that Randi sees this is the way this is going and Randi is deciding to go with the flow," he said. He added, "But it is actually her job to move the flow in our direction," referring to the teachers Weingarten represents. Other people I spoke to said the evolution of Weingarten's position on whether the mayor should control the majority of seats on the city school board could reflect a political calculation intended to improve the union's position for this fall, when it must negotiate a new contract. The contract variable is unique to the United Federation of Teachers among all groups who have made recommendations about how to improve school governance. "Nobody else has changed since their initial proposals," said Lisa Donlan, a parent activist from Manhattan. "But nobody else is in a contract negotiation position."
June 4, 2009
Randi Weingarten under fire for mayoral control position
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) A group of parent activists and union members is expressing anger with teachers union leader Randi Weingarten, telling her that she has dropped the ball in fighting for checks to the mayor's power over schools. The frustration began with a May 21 New York Post column, in which Weingarten indicated that she is open to allowing the mayor to continue appointing a majority of members to the citywide school board. A union task force recommended in February that the state legislature reverse that majority as a way to strengthen the board, known as the Panel for Education Policy or PEP. Weingarten's Post op/ed dismayed some members of her own union. "I was quite disappointed and angry, actually," said Lisa North, a teacher who sat on the union's task force to consider revisions to mayoral control. North said the task force never seriously considered recommending that the mayor keep his majority of appointments, and so when union delegates ratified the committee's final recommendations, she expected Weingarten to promote them. "The delegate assembly is supposed to be the highest authority of the union, and it voted for it," she said. In an interview today, Weingarten acknowledged that people have reached out to her with concerns about her position, including her own union members. "I did get a couple of e-mails from members saying, 'Why are you doing what you're doing?'" she said. She said that she empathizes with those concerns. "I totally and completely understand and concur with the frustrations that many have that this mayor and this chancellor have not listened to and respected enough the voices of those who go to our schools, their parents, and those who teach them," she said. But she also said that she has to weigh concerns about checking the mayor's power against the reasons she supported giving the mayor control in 2002. "It's always been a balance of stability, cohesion, and responsibility, which is what mayoral control brought us, and modifying it to create sufficient checks and balances and transparency," Weingarten said.
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