Over 100 parents attended a public town hall with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in Bensonhurst’s P.S./I.S. 226 on Wednesday, September 10, and among the many issues brought up were concerns about broken boilers, STEM education, school co-locations, parent engagement and teacher morale.
Sitting on stage alongside members of School District 21’s Community Education Council, a volunteer board of parents and educators, Fariña answered each question, in some cases revealing a new policy plan and in others offering clarification about her existing stances.
In response to Councilmember Mark Treyger’s impassioned call for the Department of Education’s (DOE) co-location process to be reformed, contending that “parents, community and educators must have a say,” Fariña stated that a “new co-location policy unveiled soon will go a long way to where you want it to be. . . You will have community input.”
Treyger also emphasized the need for new school infrastructure, especially as relates to temporary boilers – unreliable but used since the regular boilers were flooded by Superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago – at P.S. 188, P.S. 329 and I.S. 303.
“We’re looking at the boilers,” Fariña nodded, noting, “It’s on our agenda” and said that Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm was paying attention to the problem.
Treyger said he was heartened to hear Fariña address his concerns so directly, stating, “We will follow up to make sure we get permanent working boilers in our schools.
“I look forward to her new policy [regarding co-locations],” he added, “but we have to make sure that whatever it is, it is a partnership, not a dictatorship.”
According to Judy Gerowitz, district representative with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), “parking is also an issue in District 21.
“My school, I.S. 96 Seth Low, has three schools in the area, plus the new co-located [Success Academy] charter school,” Gerowitz said.
Fariña responded that she “know[s] that for teacher morale, parking is an issue. It’s not an easy one to solve, but it’s something we’ll look at.”
Fariña also had to defend remarks made to the NY Daily News that “many PTA meetings, in my opinion, are boring, and they don’t serve the purposes of parents.”
“I was disappointed to hear you say [that],” said Maria Di Graziano, a CEC 21 board member. “How would you make it more exciting? How would you make parents’ voices heard?”
“We need more interaction; that was what I meant,” Fariña said. “What are teachers sharing?. . . I’ve heard parents want to know how to speak with and get more from their child’s teacher. What do they need to know? How can they help? We hope to provide more of what parents want.”
This pleased Charlene Arent, a paraprofessional and parent, who said her “whole thing is to make sure PTA issues of getting parents in to help out are addressed, and also, Smartboard training, which I [and others] need. She said we would have it on [professional development] days, so maybe once we learn tech, we can engage the kids more.”
Fariña also mentioned that $23 million in extra funding would be going to arts education, and that she is planning to reinstitute “Museum Thursdays” partners, adding, “All of our summer programs next year will be based on STEM education because it is the way of the future and kids get excited by it.”