Parents take their concerns to the “Banks”

By Glenda Cadogan

Earlier this year at a press conference at the Tweed Building (home of the New York City Department of Education), the then incoming NYC School Chancellor David C. Banks expressed his intent to make parents and families “true partners” in his transformation plan. “I want to make sure our parents are part of this process of reform and moving forward, and not a photo op after the decisions have already been made,” he said in his public comments. “The parents don’t want to be sidelined; they want to have a seat at the table – and they should!”

In this article, The Positive Community is giving parents of children in the largest school system in the country an opportunity to put their concerns on the Chancellor’s proverbial table. “The first to step forward was Raul Rothblatt, who has both a son, 10 and a daughter, 13 enrolled at PS 9 in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. “The DOE has to recognize the diverse needs of kids in the system,” he said. “Kids who are struggling are different from those who are above grade level. As such, their emotional and social needs are affected differently and that needs to be addressed in effective ways.” Rothblatt recommends more emphasis be placed on attracting and retaining dedicated teachers and then give them a little more “flexibility and autonomy. I believe that in general our teachers are doing a good job, but they are bogged down by bureaucracy and so many ideological conflicts. They are doing God’s work; give them more power backed by resources.” Rothblatt, who was recently named director of Community Affairs for Assemblyman Brian Cunningham’s office, is an involved parent who, years ago, led the fight to have PS9 renamed after Black educator and suffragist Sarah Smith Garnett.

Lynette Pascall is a retired child care provider with a 5-year-old granddaughter in pre-K in Brooklyn. Her call to the Chancellor is to allow for a more hands-on approach to learning. “This virtual learning will be harmful to our children in the long run,” she said. “We all understand that technology is very much a part of the 21st Century world in which we live. But for our children’s all-round development, a mixed form of learning is essential. Children learn by practice and we need to help them prepare for life by learning how to build in-person relationships. By putting too much emphasis on IT and virtual, the DOE is doing our children a disservice.”

When her son was 4-years old, Ghanaian native Kubura Bankolewas forced to remove him from the public school he attended not far from their home in the Bronx because every day he came home with bruises. “No one at the school could account for how and when he was getting beat up and bullied,” she said. After repeated engagement with the school’s administration bore no results, Kubura made the decision to transfer her son, now 13 and in 8th grade, to another school outside of his zoned area. “My question is who is really keeping an eye on our children during the hours they are under the care of the DOE?” During her inquiry she learned that during lunch and break times there are “other people” hired to keep an eye on students. “But in the case of my son—and I’m sure many others who are bullied—this failed. Now whenever we walk by his former school, my son calls it a bad name. After all these years I still cannot get him to stop saying it.”

The issues in neighboring Queens were not much different as expressed by Crystal Rennie, the mother of three children in public school: a 12-year-old 7th grader, a 6-year-old 1st grader, and a 19-year-old senior in high school. “Communication; communication; communication,” she stressed. “I think somewhere the communication gets lost between the children and teachers. But even so, teachers are too lapsed in effectively communicating children’s needs to parents. In my case I can see my 6-year-old is struggling with things like phonics and grammar. But in repeated parent-teacher conferences, they have not pinpointed the problem nor provided any tools or tips to help my child. Too often, it seems as though teachers are unaware of what’s going on with students.” On another note, Rennie also wanted to stress the need for dual learning platforms. “Social media is a huge problem and someone in the administration really needs to put a handle on it as it pertains to educating our children.”

In January when he assumed office, Chancellor Banks, a 30-year educator, vowed that a “change is coming.” Along with Mayor Eric Adams, he has been pushing several initiatives to cut out the bureaucracy that has become synonymous with the DOE. However, the statistics show that parents are pulling their children out of the plagued system by droves with a total of 64,000 since the start of the pandemic. With close to a million children in the system, there’s much at stake, especially when we take it to heart that they carry our futures in their backpacks.