On January 29th Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall hosted the first in a series of New York State Assembly hearings on school governance chaired by Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan. Below is her testimony at that hearing:
It is a pleasure to welcome Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and members of the Assembly Committee on Education to the first in a series of hearings being held to review the impact of governance changes to the New York City Department of Education. As many of you know, I am a teacher by profession and know first hand the importance of ensuring student achievement and academic excellence for all students.
As Borough President of 2.3 million people, 277,000 students and 310 school buildings, there is no more vital area than working to enhance the lives of our children, residents and community than by ensuring the best education possible. No issue impacts more on all of my constituents. During the past year, civic associations. Community boards and community education councils have addressed this issue and forwarded their recommendations to me. I have testified in front of the Commission on School Governance created by Betsy Gotbaum Public Advocate for the City of New York Betsy and joined my Parent Advisory Board when Ms. Gotbaum and her committee heard testimony from members of my Board.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens member on the Panel on Education Policy and the chairperson of my Parent Advisory Board will testify later in the day. Together we will try to summarize and address the comments and concerns of many parents who participated in our forums.
I commend the Mayor and Chancellor for many innovative and creative initiatives. I applaud the focus on CTEA Schools and I applaud the ways Chancellor Klein has discussed the inequities in our system that often short changed the students that could least afford it. I salute the Departmentís efforts to build new schools and to provide a seat for every child, and for many other significant initiatives.
However, many parents remain concerned with the lack of input they have in their childrenís education and object that decisions concerning public education in NYC are made without adequate information and meaningful public input.
Today, I highlight 6 areas that I recommend be strengthened, and defined in the renewed law to address these concerns.
- Strengthening the role of the local Superintendents.
Increase authority of the Community District Superintendent to enable this person to coordinate and evaluate instruction in district schools. School district offices must be reestablished and should have adequate staff commensurate with their responsibilities to hire, supervise and evaluate principals who operate schools within the geographic boundaries of their respective districts. District Offices should be a place where parents can go when they have a question or complaint that could not be resolved at the school level.
- Strengthening and re-defining the role of the School leadership team.
In 2007 principals were given more direct control over personnel and budget matters and the role of the SLT was diminished in many schools. However, in a recent ruling New York State Education Department Commissioner Richard Mills found that the NYC Department of Education improperly changed the rules governing parent participation on school leadership teams.
- Strengthening the role of the Borough Panel for Education Policy Representative.
In order to ensure that the Borough Panel for Educational Policy representative has a constituency to serve and is empowered to exercise independence on behalf of parents, CECís within each borough should report to the representative and direct resolutions regarding community issues to its borough representative on the PEP.
- The role of Parent Coordinators should be acknowledged in The State Education Law since they serve as the primary point of contact for families and parent leaders in NYC public schools. Parent Coordinators should report to the Chief Family Engagement Officer. The Chief Family Engagement Officer should be accountable for training parent coordinators and submitting a quarterly report of parent coordinator activities to the PEP.
- Each borough should have its own High School Education Council and Special Education Council. The needs of high school communities and District 75 community of families are currently disadvantaged by the citywide structure of the two councils intended to serve them. The needs and voices of families within each borough are diluted by the lack of adequate representation. They too should direct policy advice and report to the borough representative of the Panel for Educational Policy. This will ensure the needs and voices of both constituencies are represented.
- Each member of the Panel for Education Policy should serve for a least one full term to ensure continuity of services and policies.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to address this Panel.