Schools chancellor addresses District 20 parents and teachers in Bensonhurst

School overcrowding, grading and the Common Core curriculum were at the fore during a town hall meeting held in District 20, with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña answering questions and concerns voiced by parents.

The highly attended meeting, held at P.S. 204, 8101 15th Avenue on Tuesday, October 15, had parents write dozens of questions on index cards  presented to the chancellor.

After performances by the P.S. 204 chorus, the first question asked was about the district’s overcrowded schools. “I know overcrowding is an issue and we’re working as fast as we can but obviously there’s not going to be an overnight solution,” Fariña said, adding that the Department of Education (DOE) is looking at space everywhere.  “One of the major type of spaces we are taking over have been independent schools, parochial schools.

“We are looking at every kind of space that make sense for the age of the students that are going here,” she went on. “Certainly in this district, a little bit of thinking outside the box is something you have to do.”

With respect to Common Core, Fariña stated that while flawed, it can be improved.  “I don’t believe in Common Core, but I do think people get sucked up into what they think it is and why it is,” she said. “Common Core is not curriculum. It is a set of strategies that teachers should be using in the classroom. In the past, a lot of teaching was about memorizing and regurgitating.”


The plan, according to the chancellor, is to ensure that the strategy in the classroom involves students talking to each other. “Students are getting in front of the class to share in what they know and gaining more self-confidence,” she said.

Teacher support is another significant factor in improving the initiative. “We didn’t prepare teachers or parents for what Common Core was,” she said, expecting them to follow it “without giving them tools to do it well. Only the last two years, we put out curriculum guides in different subject areas.”

According to Fariña, 82 percent of principals in the city have bought into the curriculum that comes with books, lesson plans, and strategies on how to provide professional development around them.

The safety of students was also addressed. “We now have alarms in many more of our schools, but the best protection is from the school safety officers,” said Fariña. “Starting this year, school safety officers are getting an additional two weeks of training.”

Questioned about grade policy, Fariña expanded on how it could be improved through parent-teacher interaction. “When a teacher says [a child is] an excellent reader, it’s an ambiguous term,” she said. “Parents need to ask the right questions. I encourage them to ask about a child’s social needs. Does my child have friends? We need to ask more questions than, Is he at the top of his class?”

One parent had a mixed reaction to the town hall. “It went well,” the parent said. “She definitely gave us an insight into her plans for the future of education. Did it address issues that District 20 had? I don’t think they got into the nitty gritty or that there was enough time. But I was happy to hear the other information about the future of education.”

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