Parents, staff and administrators from Renaissance attended a special Mayoral Candidate Forum, hosted by Families for Excellent Schools (FES). FES is an organization that advocates for better school choices for families in New York City. On their website (http://www.familiesforexcellentschools.org/
) they state their mission: "Families for Excellent Schools organizes and mobilizes families in support of aggressive education reform. We train, equip, and support parents to participate in a coordinated advocacy campaign that fights for every family's right-especially families in poverty- to choose an excellent school.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, charter schools have received strong support. This forum was an opportunity to find out what the democratic candidates running for mayor had to say about education, and charter schools in particular. All the questions, which were asked of each candidate individually, dealt with such educational issues as school safety, college readiness and charter school co-location. Questions were developed by a steering committee of school and parent leaders, including TRCS Principal Stacey Gauthier (see her op ed below). Pierina Arias, a TRCS parent and the high school registrar, and Georgia Southworth, a TRCS parent and pro-active Jackson Heights community member, were Renaissance's representatives on the second panel of parents who addressed the candidates.
Pierina - asking the tough questions!
Georgia Southworth - praising Renaissance!
Six candidates were originally scheduled to appear, but candidates Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio were last minute cancellations. Both of these candidates have declared opposition to new charter schools and to school co-locations, a controversial space-sharing arrangement that has allowed charter schools to flourish under the Bloomberg administration.
The remaining four candidates each presented different views and different approaches, both in how they would address the issues and how they communicated their opinions. Former Congressman Andrew Weiner (above) spoke very passionately about public schools, stating his mother worked for the DOE for over thirty years. While he would not give a definitive yes or no answer as to whether he was for charter schools co-locating, or whether they should be charged rent for space in DOE buildings, or if failing schools should be closed, he did say he would do whatever would give parents the best choices for their child's education. He thinks college access is something that should started being talked about in kindergarten and the current Stop & Frisk policy should be changed.
Up next was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. As an active member of the council, her approach to the issues was a sharp contrast to her opponents. She stuck to the numbers: amount of new seats added under her term and budgets allocated to new initiatives and the need for technology -such as tablets versus traditional books. She answered a simple "yes" to school co-locating, and a resounding "no" to charging them rent. She believes failing schools should be closed and something new tried in their place and that there should be better monitoring of schools, in areas of both academic and safety issues, before things get so bad they cannot be turned around. She supports the DREAM Act.
Former City Councilman Sal Albanese was in the "hot seat" next. As a former teacher and product of the NYC school system, he is a strong believer in public education. He also sat on the city council for 15 years. His platform advocates for strong early childhood intervention, with college access promoted from kindergarten up. He would like to create a department for early learning and establish pediatric wellness centers in lower income communities around the city. He believes in a multidisciplinary approach, with doctors, parents and teachers working together. He also believes in strongly supporting teachers with developmental training, but holding them accountable. In the past he has called for a moratorium on charter schools. When questioned on co-locating, he said he didn't feel it was such a great idea, but each case would probably have to be looked at individually. He was against charging rent to charters who do co-locate. As far as school closures, he said it should be taken on a case-by-case basis. He believes improved school conditions will go a long way towards making the environments around schools safer.
The final candidate of the evening was NYC Comptroller, John Liu. His views, in general, do not seem to support charter schools, although he talked at length about his public school education and the fact that his son goes to a public Middle School. He does not feel the cap should be lifted on charters, or that charters should co-locate with other public schools. Those schools that do co-locate, he feels should pay rent. He also believes in early childhood intervention and has proposed launching full-day, year-round preschool for 100,000 3-year-olds, funded in part by new taxes on New Yorkers earning more than $500,000 a year. He supports the DREAM Act as a way of making higher education a possibility for all and advocates for ending the current Stop & Frisk policy.
The forum was a great way to hear first hand from at least some of the candidates. This was not the first one hosted by FES and probably will not be the last, so check their website for other activities. There are also other organizations, such as AARP, who are hosting these forums, each one usually dealing with the issues that are most important to their constituents. There are some links below for further reading and, if you can, try to attend a live forum so that you can make the most informed decision come election day!