Schools chancellor addresses District 21 parents and teachers

Co-locations, Common Core and school overcrowding were spotlighted at a Tuesday, March 15 town hall meeting between District 21 parents, teachers and volunteers, and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

“We thank you so much for being here,” said Community Education Council President Heather Fiorica at the start of the dialogue, hosted by CEC 21 as part of its monthly meeting at David Boody Intermediate School (228 Avenue S).

Fiorica, flanked by fellow members of the CEC, read off a list of pre-prepared questions for the chancellor, including some about charter schools, inclusion and – specifically – local parents’ concerns about an incoming Hebrew language charter school

When asked just where the school would be placed in the district, Fariña was unsure, but spoke highly of the potential of having dual-language schools in the district.

“What we would prefer to see is actually one of our traditional elementary schools [rather than another charter school],” said Fiorica, noting that most of the schools in the district are already at or close to capacity. “Oftentimes, when we have a little leeway where there’s a small amount of space [the city will] still push in a charter school.”

“The way I look at this is that, they’re all our kids,” said the chancellor when asked to state her stance on charter expansions. “No matter what school they come from. . . I feel that, as long as parent choice is there, the thing is, how do we work together and how do we make this work?”

Parents, teachers and even one local politician also spoke out at the meeting.

“I just want to say it is so refreshing to be able to sit and listen to a chancellor who gets it,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents a huge chunk of District 21. He praised Fariña for her dedication to universal pre-k citywide, and for her willingness to listen. When it comes to his district, however, he asked her to consider focusing on how the city can bring the necessary upgrades – from technological upgrades like WiFi and reliable wiring to seemingly commonsense additions like ventilation and bathrooms.

One parent took to the microphone to raise concerns about the common core.

“I’m a concerned parent who’s very upset with what’s going on in our educational system. I feel that my child is being robbed of a quality education,” she said. “Common Core and high stakes testing, I know that you’re an advocate for it and I respect that, but, in my opinion, it’s doing more harm than good.”

According to that parent, spelling, grammar and cursive writing have fallen to the wayside thanks to the new citywide curriculum, and math has grown to become a nearly impossible task for many students and parents.

“Common Core math, I can’t stand it,” she said, provoking a room full of applause. “Every day my son is learning a new concept in math and that is confusing the child. He has not mastered one concept at all; it is unfair to my child and to every child in this city.”

The schools chancellor was quick to admit that the subjects mentioned by the parent should still be taught in the classroom – just not in the same length it was once.

“It’s not all or nothing,” she said. “It’s, where can we put the right balance in our schools and how do we do this in a way that makes sense?”

A local teacher then took to the mic to thank Fariña for the open dialogue, but also to express the divide at her school.

“It is so important to have this dialogue. I’m teaching about democracy and I’m going to tell my kids, yes I was here tonight and yes, I did speak to the schools chancellor and yes, I did ask yet again to please reconsider the co-location at I.S. 281,” said the woman, who teaches history at the recently co-located Joseph Cavallaro Intermediate School. “It really is like segregation. It’s not equal and the kids know it.”

In early 2014, Cavallaro (8787 24th Avenue) – a middle school – was forced to open its doors to a grammar school run by Coney Island Prep charter school.

“These kids need room,” said the teacher. “Elementary school and middle school should be separated.”

Fariña was presented with a gift by two students from P.S. 212.

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