By Shino Tanikawa, president of Community Education Council District 2
It’s hard to believe the summer break is almost over. For parents and activists alike, the summer months provide a much-needed rest from the frenetic pace of the school year, even though we cannot completely check out. Some policies and important events sneak their way in under the parents’ radar over the summer. The decision by the NYC Department of Education to discontinue the Wellness in the Schools program is one such policy change. The program has provided healthful, wholesome school lunches made from fresh ingredients to many public schools in the city, including those in neighborhoods where fresh food is scarce. If your school has participated in this program, stay tuned for any actions!
Another “under the radar” event is the public hearing for the Great Oaks charter middle school application on Aug. 30. While I appreciate the effort made by the charter applicant to avoid scheduling the hearing on the same evening as the Community Education Council District 2 meeting, the last week of August and Thursday before the Labor Day weekend is probably not the best time to hold any public meetings.
As for the other charter schools in District 2—Success Academy Charters—in September the DOE is expected to release Educational Impact Statements for co-location. While it seems the elementary and middle schools in District 2 are spared from co-location, we still need to voice our concern for having elementary students with high school students in the same building, and for potential overcrowding that could result from co-location.
District 2 schools continue to be overcrowded even with new schools that have started in the last four years. This coming year, we will be rezoning the east side of Midtown for a new school on First Avenue at 35th Street. Plans are under way for a new school in Chelsea and another in the Financial District, and negotiations to acquire 75 Morton St. are ongoing. I hope parents will attend meetings hosted by the Community Education Council District 2. We cannot make school rezoning decisions or advocate for more schools without parents’ input.
This school year, we will also want to keep an eye on the special education reform and the Common Core State Standards. The special education reform requires schools to better integrate students with special needs in general education settings. While the intent of the reform is sound, the implementation has many advocates worried. Among the concerns is the possibility that a student’s Individual Education Plan will be amended to match the services available at the school, not according to the needs of the student. Many advocates are also concerned that students with special needs will be placed in an inappropriate environment without adequate attention given to them.
The Common Core Standards have quietly (at least from the parents’ perspective) made their way into every school in the city. Raising the bar and establishing national standards are definitely policy changes in the right direction. However, many advocates are keeping a watchful eye on how the Common Core Standards are implemented. They are particularly concerned about the potential increase in standardized assessments as well as decreased instructional time for subjects not yet under the Common Core Standards initiative (i.e., arts). Clearly, even good changes require diligent monitoring.
It seems overwhelming at times, but parents are and should be an integral part of the education system and our voices must be heard. I hope you will find time to become familiar with an issue that resonates with you and speak out. Ready or not, we are heading into what looks like another exciting yet challenging year and we need all the parents to be involved.
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