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Parents now have until April 22 to nominate themselves to serve on one of the 36 Community and Citywide Education Councils -- and they can even text to get application information, in addition to applying online or by mail.
The original deadline to submit applications was April 9.
Schools Chancellor Cathy Black and Ojeda Hall, director of the Office for Family Information and Action, today issued a call for more applicants and parent participation.
"We want our CEC membership to reflect a cross-section of our school communities and the diversity of our student population so we have
extended our application deadline to April 22," said Ojeda Hall. "This is a great opportunity for parents who have not been engaged before in the
education process to become informed and active."
In past years it has been hard to fill the seats on some councils and this year appears to be no exception. The councils serve largely as advisory boards which can advocate on zoning, how school buildings are used, and how DOE policies affect schools in each district, but they have little decision-making power.
Parents interested in serving on one of the Community District Education Councils, Citywide Council on High Schools, Citywide
Council on English Language Learners, Citywide Council on Special Education or District 75 Council can text "APPLY" to 877877 to receive application information. Or they can fill out and submit applications online or via mail.
See the DOE's press release for more details.
Valerie Watnick is a professor at Baruch College, teaching environmental and business law, and is a past Co-PTA President of PS 199 in Manhattan. She has written about the dangers of PCBs. This is her third update for Insideschools.org about the efforts to rid New York City schools of PCBs and other environmental dangers.
Parents and advocates have been mobilizing in the wake of the city's February 23 announcement that it would take ten years to replace PCB containing light ballasts in all the New York City schools. The City Council will hold a hearing on April 13, with parents expected to turn out in mass to protest the ten-year timeline.
PCBs are polychlorinated bi-phenols that were widely used in construction from the 1940s until they were banned in 1978. They are believed to be carcinogenic, immuno-toxic and to have a host of other ill health effects, including a relationship to depressed IQ.
The Regional Administrator of the EPA, Judith Enck, said that ten years is too long to take these contaminated light ballasts out of schools. In a March 11 letter, 41 of 51 members of the City Council urged the EPA to require the city to act more swiftly to protect children from PCBs commonly found in flourescent light ballasts.
After New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) issued a Freedom of Information Act Request, the city released previously concealed test results from a pilot study done last year at several schools. These results indicate that the caulk and ballast tests done in the summer of 2010 showed that many of these PCB levels in schools were above EPA action limits and in serious need of remediation. For example, one test done at PS 199 in Manhattan showed PCB levels in caulking around a classroom sink to have over 86 parts per million, which is above the EPA action level of 50 parts per million. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said that the city should have been more forthcoming on these test results from the pilot study. A copy of all of the city’s previously posted test results can be found on the Department of Education's website.
How can parents get involved? Join NYLPI's campaign to free the schools of PCBs, and attend the City Council hearing to make your voice heard: April 13 at 1 p.m., Emigrant Savings Bank, 49-51 Chambers Street in Manhattan.
After dropping off my kindergartner one rainy morning, I found myself exiting the schoolyard behind a father who worked at one of those knuckle-busting jobs where a man gets intimately acquainted with dirt, steel and sweat. He wore an oil-stained cap, dust-covered boots and a quilt-lined Carhartt jacket, and in his thick hands he held his daughter’s tiny pink lunchbox.
I complimented him on his accessory, and he in turn praised the pink Dora umbrella I carried. There was a time, we both agreed, when toting such items in public might have made us self-conscious of our manhood. But fatherhood had changed us, given us perspective. The needs of our school-age daughters came first, our public image ranked way down the list, and we expressed no regrets.
In fact, virtually all fathers I meet most mornings at the elementary school seem happy. This could be related to the fact that we’re dropping off our kids. (The mood is more somber at afternoon pick-up, where I’m one of the few fathers in a crowd made up mostly of mothers and baby sitters, all braced for the tasks ahead.) But I’m convinced joy can be found in simply being a father, particularly for those of us who take an active role in our children’s lives.
Not that it’s easy. In my case, I’ve set myself up for failure because I’ve adopted what I call the Atticus Finch Ideal of fatherhood, named for the wise and principled dad in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” (and memorably played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film). I shouldn’t hold myself to this unattainable ideal, but I can’t help it. I want my daughter to learn right from wrong based on my noble example, and I won’t be convinced of my success until that day when the oppressed whisper in my girl’s ear, “Stand up. Your father’s passing.” Wish me luck.
Meanwhile, I do what I can to add a little testosterone to my child's elementary school environment, a place where men tend to play supporting roles. When it was my turn to be the surprise "mystery reader," I did a dramatic rendition of "Casey at the Bat," fiercely swinging a Louisville Slugger as I re-created Casey's futile third strike. (My daughter's appraisal: She was a little embarrassed. My reply: Won't be the last time, kid.)
And I derive comfort and happiness from small services rendered, like carrying home a cherished pink umbrella so it’s not lost amid the chaos of the classroom.
Also, there’s a long-term payoff to developing a close, nurturing relationship with your child. Among them: A recent study showed college-age women were less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs if they had involved fathers who set rules and closely monitored their behavior. (The same was true for mothers and sons, suggesting significant influence by the opposite-gender parent.) We fathers might not always rise to the level of Atticus Finch, but we don’t have to sink to the depths of Homer Simpson.
The other day, I was on the phone with my daughters’ pediatrician. I had called with concerns about my 6-year-old, Night Owl, who has learning disabilities and motor delays, and in her most reassuring voice the doctor said: “You know, we live in a highly competitive place. A lot of the kids at your daughter’s (special education) school would have been, say, “B” students at a suburban elementary school 20 years ago.”
Though well-intentioned, her comment troubled me, because not only did it downplay the significance of developmental and learning difficulties, but also made me realize that even now, when we have greater knowledge and resources than existed a generation ago, there are still many who just don’t get it. Fortunately, our daughter is getting the support she needs, but there were times when we felt like we were grasping for answers where there were none.
Learning disabilities can be mysterious and complex, as varied as snowflakes – especially in the very young. My daughter, who is an unstoppable reader, has trouble grasping numbers beyond 10, and putting the simplest puzzles together can be intensely frustrating. She may master a task one day and completely forget it the next. Distractibility is a constant theme. But because she’s quiet and compliant, people may not notice all these things without a closer look; she could easily have fallen through the cracks in a large, mainstream class. When we look at her, though, we see a bright, determined girl who remembers everything she learns about nature; has a gentle way with all creatures; and wants to be a veterinarian, actress, and mom one day.
It’s important to know that kids with learning disabilities are not stupid or lazy. They genuinely have difficulty in certain areas of processing and often need a different teaching approach from the rest of the class. At the same time, they may be extremely gifted in other areas. Many highly successful people struggled with learning disabilities growing up, including actor Danny Glover, chef Jamie Oliver, businessmen Richard Branson and Charles Schwab, and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Chuck Close.
Sadly, many learning disabled children will never rise above their problems in school, because they are misunderstood–or lack access to vital support services. The steps involved in getting a diagnosis may be daunting for parents, but every child has a right to an evaluation through the public school system. Help is available at younger ages, and studies show that earlier intervention can dramatically improve the outlook for a child who is falling behind. But funding for early intervention programs is in jeopardy of being cut statewide. Check out the Insideschools special education forum for suggested steps parents can take to protest these cuts.
On April 6, Advocates for Children is holding a free workshop about the different types of learning disabilities and evaluations. Other helpful resources include The Arise Coalition, The National Center for Learning Disabilities, The International Dyslexia Association, and Resources for Children with Special Needs. And the parent group, Citywide Council on Special Education holds monthly meetings around the city.
With so many people -- including pediatricians -- ill-informed about the needs of learning disabled children, we parents have to be especially vigilant about finding and sharing information about available resources.
Please share your comments and suggestions below!
Elementary and high school parent-teacher conferences are taking place this week. District 75 conferences are coming up next week.
Parents of younger students may find the system easier to navigate with just one teacher (and classroom) to visit, and enough time to actually look at their child's work and talk at some length to the teacher.
By high school it can be a different story. Although some schools actually invite you to sit in on classes during Open School Week, at most large high schools the conferences are limited to a scant three minutes (egg timer and all). Parents may feel they need to put on track shoes to navigate the stairways, get from one classroom to another, and actually sit down for very short "conferences." In High School Hustle, Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way.
We'd like to know what you think. How did your parent-teacher conference go? Take our poll (on the right column) and let us know.
This month the Department of Education is calling for public school parents to run for a seat on the citywide and community district parent councils. Applications will be available on March 23, according to the Office of Family Information and Action (OFIA).
In 2009 I answered such a call and served as a member of a Bronx district council. I did this first and foremost for my son who was in middle school. Knowing there is a lack of information available to parents in my community, I hoped that my years as a PTA president, School Leadership Team chair, and Insideschools.org reviewer would be an asset.
I believed that parents had the power to make real change within the community council structure, that despite flaws in the system, we could still offer support, resources, and information to families and schools in our community. I was fortunate to work with strong team members in District 10, and a very engaged district family advocate and superintendent. Unlike many other education councils, we had no internal squabbles and usually had enough members to make a quorum at meetings.
However, it became clear to me very soon that parents had lost their faith in the councils' ability to address their concerns or to effect change. Attendance at the meetings was consistently low. At the orientation and trainings for council members, it became apparent by the grumbling that they were increasingly frustrated with the lack of power. Officials at OFIA were usually gracious and patient as members expressed their irritation, but they could not provide direct solutions.
What do the CDECs do?
Due to the various restructurings at the DOE over the past eight years, parents and administrators alike seem genuinely confused about the role of the CDEC. “What do the CDEC’s do?” was the question posed to me again and again as I made contact with the principals in my group of 10 schools. They wanted to know: “What exactly can you do for us now?” “What power do you have to stop or push through a proposal?”
I could only tell them, “We are liaisons who can convey and share information with the superintendent, board members, and community. We can become aware of facility needs and help the school submit a grant.” The principals shared with us their many pressing social and financial needs, but we could only nod and listen. We were powerless to directly intervene for the parents or schools who came to us for aid.
Despite all of this, I was willing to fulfill my term, assisting whereever I could. As a freelancer for Insideschools.org I agreed not to write school profiles or submit comments about schools in my district when I was elected. This was extremely frustrating as all council members visit schools and have access to information that would benefit parents. Eventually I had to step down due to “conflict of interest.”
I am glad to see that changes have been made to the nominating system and PA and PTA members can now nominate themselves for a council position. That’s a good thing. But, even if the most involved and aware parents join the councils, they will find there are too few opportunities to make an impact.
I honor those who continue to work on the community and citywide councils and I would never discourage anyone from serving. Our schools, communities and parents need you.
Considering joining a council? Here are my suggestions:
- Sit in on a few monthly meetings
- Talk to current board members about their initiatives
- Consider your intended role and what you can offer
- Talk to your district superintendent about what she would like to accomplish
- Learn about your district’s challenges
- Ask questions of your child's school to find out how they have interacted with the CDEC.
- Get to know your district’s family advocate
These simple steps will help you realize how well your council might function and whether or not you have what it takes to dig in and help out.
Last week, activists hoping to avert budget cuts in New York public education — cuts that will have a direct and lasting impact on my child’s future — asked parents like me to join a pro-schools rally on the steps of City Hall. I didn’t go. (My excuse: It was raining pretty hard that day.)
In the past two weeks, several groups have organized bus trips to Albany and offered to take me to the state capitol so I could march and make personal appeals to my lawmakers. I didn’t accept the offers. (My excuse: That’s a full-day commitment, and I've been kind of busy.)
Finally, a fellow parent who always seems to have energy for public service e-mailed me a list of lawmakers’ names and addresses, then asked me to write letters urging them to oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $1.5 billion cut in the state’s education budget. I didn’t write any letters. (My excuse: Uh …)
Fact is, I’m out of excuses, except for one: I’m a lazy, apathetic father who uses his pessimism about the responsiveness of New York’s elected officials to weasel out of a civic duty to fight for my daughter's educational future. Exhausted by the demands of career, family, and shopping at Fairway, I have little energy left to raise my voice against what I see as a done deal crafted by politicians who are (to quote Woody Allen) “either incompetent or corrupt — sometimes both on the same day.”
There’s evidence to support to my apathy and pessimism. But then I pick up a newspaper, and my justifications crumble.
In Libya, people are literally dying for the right to oust a dictator and form a more responsive government. Similar revolts have already jolted Egypt and Tunisia, and more are brewing in Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and even Saudi Arabia and Iran. These revolutionaries seek the right to petition a legitimate government and have legally elected lawmakers respond to their demands — a right apathetic Americans like me can’t be bothered to exercise.
Even my countrymen shame my laziness. In Wisconsin, people hoping to preserve public workers’ union rights slept in the state capitol for weeks during nonstop protests. Last April, thousands of New Jersey students walked out of class to protest looming cuts in education. (OK, that may have been cover for Senior Skip Day, but still — you gotta admire the cleverness.) We in New York City love to tout our superiority, yet I’m being humbled by a bunch of Jersey kids and Packers fans.
Enough! As Michael Jackson once sang, it’s time to look at the man in the mirror and make a change. This week, I’ll write those letters to my lawmakers. NO NYC parent has a justifiable excuse not to do at least that. On March 24, I might join the so-called Day of Rage Against the Cuts and march from City Hall to Wall Street, shoulder to shoulder with lefties such as Radical Women, Students Without Borders , and at least three Socialist parties. (It’s not my ideal crowd, but since I skipped last week’s parents’ rally I’ll have to take what I can get.)
If I join the march, I’ll be the guy with his 5-year-old daughter hoisted atop his shoulders, giving her a front-row seat for this exercise in democracy. This way, she can't say she never saw Dad take a stand for his child's future.
Postscript: Several pro-school rallies were announced after this column was posted. New York parents who want to take a stand against cuts in the state’s education budget have several chances this week to join like-minded advocates and send a message to state lawmakers:
-- March 16 in Queens at 92-10 Roosevelt Ave. Rally begins at 11 a.m.
-- March 17 in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St. Rally begins at 6:30 p.m.
-- March 17 in The Bronx in the Savoy Building at Hostos Community College, 149th Street and Walton Avenue. Rally begins at 6:30 p.m.
-- March 17 in Manhattan on the steps of City Hall, 260 Broadway. Rally begins at 1 p.m.
Nominations are open for parents who want to serve for the next two years on Citywide or District Community Education Councils, advisory boards which advocate on zoning, how school buildings are used, and how DOE policies affect schools in each district. If you'd like to serve on a council, you can fill out a short online application on the website PowertotheParents.org or print it out and send it in.
Once applications have been submitted, there will be public forums in April to meet the candidates. In May parents may cast advisory votes to instruct Parents Association officers who do the actual selecting.
If the past is any indication, most parents who want to serve won't have much competition. Last week, a Daily News article took the DOE to task for not publicizing the process just two weeks before applications are due, on April 9. Now there is a link on the DOE's homepage. Some councils have had trouble keeping enough members to make a quorum, while others have active members and vocal audience participation at meetings, especially when DOE officials are present.
Insideschools, and other parents, would like to hear from other citywide and district council representatives. Please share your experiences in comments.
I am concerned that the parents in my neighborhood are automatically bypassing the zoned school, that my children attend. My kids have had academic success and I have gained appreciation for the principal and staff. How can I convince others to give it a try?
Lonely at my zoned school
I share your concerns about parents writing off their zoned schools – particularly schools that have reasonably good track records and are on the upswing. Recently, at the urging of neighborhood parents, I visited PS 125 in District 5. The school, in Harlem, faced dwindling enrollment which was troubling to local parents who wanted to keep their kids in the neighborhood, rather than scramble for an out-of-district choice. Families of enrolled students and pre-school parents formed a committee to attract others. They worked with the principal to expand the dual language program; they held coffees for friends and neighbors in their homes, and they invited parents to open houses at the school. Their efforts paid off with a sizable kindergarten enrollment. There have been similar successes in attracting new neighborhood parents to schools such PS 11 and PS 8 in District 13 in Brooklyn, and, I am sure, many others.
How to get started? Rope in parents who share your passion for the school. Approach the principal to get her on board, and brainstorm about how to increase buzz about the school. Decide on the strong points to talk up and also the weak spots that can be remedied. According to a friend of Insideschools,who was involved in the turn-around of a school in Clinton Hill, you have to address issues that many parents fear: 1) an unfriendly administration that does not listen to parents concerns; 2) an atmosphere that is too rigid; 3) racial and socio-economic diversity. I would add to that, the desire for rigorous academics.
Reach out to prospective parents at playgrounds and in pre-schools and invite them in to talk about their own kids’ experiences and to discuss parent concerns. If the principal attends, so much the better! Parent-led tours at the school are another path to parent to parent interaction. .
Make your school an important presence in the neighborhood. Hold public events, as fund raisers and as attractions to the neighborhood. It could be a street fair, a recycling day for electronics, a playground flea market or swap fest, a celebrity performance, a sing along, or something else. Advertise through posters in stores, banks, apartment lobbies, and place a notice in your community newspaper. Of course, post comments about what is special about your school on its Insideschools.org's profile page.
All this takes time, commitment, and patience and might benefit from forming a semi- formal organization such as “Friends of PS…” Recruitment is only the beginning, The school has to fulfill its promises to families and parents have to take an active part in supporting the school. The partnership is ongoing and only continued progress will keep the initial excitement alive.
NOTE: All parents clamor for choice, but unfortunately not all schools are equally viable choices. That leads to a scramble for the schools with the best reputation while other schools get neglected. No matter how a school has improved, the perception of inferiority lingers. It becomes a burden on the schools to convince their constituency that their school is one of the viable choices. Some complain that there is no help from the DOE either to boost its performance or to encourage local enrollment. Try to work closely with the district Community Education Council and with the school's support network leaders. And reach out to other schools that have been successful to see what they've done that works.
We invite parents and educators who have worked to turn around their schools to share their ideas, successes, and also their frustrations.
School Chancellor Cathie Black says reaching out to parents is at the top of her "to do" list. She told a student at Democracy Prep that her first task will be meeting parents. And in her first weekly letter to principals, she wrote that she wants to "reach out more to families to involve them meaningfully in our work."
Black's predecessor, Joel Klein, got low marks from parents, although he provided each school with a parent coordinator, encouraged parents to email him, and convened large forums to explain his "Children's First" agenda to families and community members.
Can Cathie Black do any better?
Take our poll and post your suggestions.