CEC District 20 hosts town hall with Chancellor Walcott

High stakes testing, student privacy and gifted and talented classes were on the agenda, as Community Education Council District 20 hosted a town hall with Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Thursday, May 2 at P.S. 204.

Before a rousing performance by P.S. 204’s chorus, Walcott answered questions submitted by parents and students. The chancellor noted that in the mayor’s budget for 2014, all staff and administration will be maintained, there will be 2,000 additional universal Pre-K slots and $50 million is being allocated for professional development.

“We think the world of you. You work day and night,” Walcott told the teachers and principals in the 15th Avenue school’s auditorium. “We are a family. We work together like a family and we fight now and then. But we keep our eyes focused on our students, because if they benefit, we all do.”

Walcott was first asked about the pressure put on students this year with the updated state English Language Arts (ELA) and math tests. Students in fourth and seventh grades say they are put under even more pressure because how well they do on the tests determines junior high and high school placement.

“We are trying to make sure that we prepare our students for tests in life,” Walcott said, adding that he personally spoke with fourth graders who said the ELA test was “fair,” but the math was “challenging.

“Even though the results may not be as high as previous years, students and schools will not be penalized and competition will be the same,” he went on, noting that he “saw a change in how teachers were teaching,” focusing on learning rather than test prep.

“Students are thinking critically,” Walcott said.

A student asked, “Why did tests go to such a high standard so fast? Why couldn’t they take it one step at a time?”

Walcott responded, “I understand it did seem like zero to 100 miles per hour…but it is how it is and hopefully the goals for the test will be achieved.”

One District 20 parent asked why there are not enough classes to accommodate gifted and talented kids.

“We don’t want to make a gifted and talented environment with gifted and talented only kids,” Walcott said. “It segregates students and takes away diversity.”

District 20 Superintendent Karina Costantino added, “Gifted and talented classes are in high demand in District 20. Schools are becoming overcrowded and there is no room for gifted and talented classes from districts around the city.”

When asked why schools were not going green, Elizabeth Rose, chief of staff in the Division of Operations of the DOE, noted that schools use 25 percent of the electricity used in all city government. To combat that, some schools have adopted “Tray-less Tuesdays” in the cafeteria and old lighting is being replaced. In addition, schools are working with the Sanitation Department to create “initiatives around recycling.”

Walcott also spoke about student privacy. Many parents are concerned about student’s information being shared with a corporation called inBloom.  The chancellor assured parents that no personal info would be shared, just basic school data.

“We will maintain student privacy. We are very strict,” he said.  “We will never, ever share student privacy.”

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