Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Dennis Walcott held hissecond town hall meeting in eight months withDistrict 21’s Community Education Council (CEC) on January 11 atP.S. 216.
Hundreds of concerned parents and teachers packed the Avenue Xschool s auditorium to express concerns covering a wide range oftopics, including the state of the Gifted and Talented Program inConey Island, excessive paperwork among teachers – and homeworkamong students – and shared space schools. The chancellor’s firsttown hall in the district occurred a week after his appointmentlast year.
The parents of P.S. 339, P.S. 212 and P.S. 188 – which was thefirst school in District 21 to have a Gifted and Talented Program -asked Walcott if he would consider reinstating their schools in theprogram from which were recently removed.
Walcott responded that schools are considered for the programbased on the number of applications that are submitted. We felt itwas important to have a citywide standard based on the numbers thatqualify, he explained.
But a teacher from P.S. 95 said that parents aren’t beingproperly informed about testing, so they are not submitting anyapplications, creating a Catch-22.
Walcott suggested publicizing Gifted and Talented testingthrough elected officials. People apply through personalpreference, he said, adding that if children in Coney Island doqualify for the program, they can be transferred to a school thathas it.
Judy Gerowitz, United Federation of Teachers (UFT)representative for District 21, asked Walcott what he would doabout the extreme amount of paperwork that teachers are nowrequired to do. Consider the fact that teachers have lost theability to teach with freedom and flexibility with the amount ofmandates, she said.
Walcott said he discussed this issue recently with UFT PresidentMichael Mulgrew.
We don’t want our teachers overwhelmed with paperwork, we wantthem in classrooms teaching, he said. We will be joining forcesand going back and forth with the UFT, teachers, principals and theCouncil of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA).
Parents also expressed concerned with the weight of backpacksand the amount of homework each night. One mom worried about thepushed-up date of the statewide math standardized tests and itsheightened standards.
Walcott deferred those concerns to the schools. I can’tmicromanage that from my office, he said. It’s up to theprincipals and teachers to do that.
A parent at Coney Island Prep charter school said he was verypleased with the way things were going but asked Walcott’s views oncharging rent to public charter schools.
I will not charge rent to public schools; these are ourstudents and they are students of the New York City public schoolsystem, Walcott said. Roughly 700 of our 1,200 buildings areshared space. Most of the shared school buildings are co-habitingvery well.
Walcott took time to explain to parents the new mandatory sexeducation curriculum for students in grades six through 12,starting next month.
Middle school and high schools will have abstinence education,he said. It’s really to help students how to learn to say no’ andhow to get out of compromising situations.
CEC 21 president Yoketing Eng said he was happy with how theevening went. I appreciate that the chancellor has honored ustwice in eight months. It’s absolutely great of him, he said. Itgives us the opportunity to voice our opinions abouteducation.