Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Tours Automotive High School, Improving 'Renewal School' in Brooklyn

March 25, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Joshua, I commend you. First of all, it is not easy to stand in front of all the TV cameras and talk about what you experienced, but you did it very well and very powerfully. And I want you to know how proud I am and everyone is here of your achievements and the way you move yourself forward – and it is part of a bigger effort [inaudible] change we’re making. But you’re a great example to your fellow students of what that kind of initiative and focus can mean for turning your life around.

I am thrilled to be here at Automotive. This is a school where a lot of positive change is happening. It is one of our 94 renewal schools – part of our $150 million dollar initiative to make these schools strong again. Joshua represents everything that we believe in – a young man of great promise who is being given an opportunity to fulfill his potential. We believe in helping individual students realize their potential. We believe in helping schools realize their potential. In both cases, you have to care and you have to invest – and Joshua is a great example of what happens when that caring and that investment is there.

I’m going to add to Joshua’s story – that he struggled – as he indicated, he struggled with the lack of support and lack of hope – even as late as ninth grade, was nicknamed “Trouble” because he was in trouble – and suspensions and involvement with gangs. And it took a lot to believe, but you can hear in his poise and with his intelligence that all along this was a young man of great promise, but it had to be found and tapped into. So that was ninth grade – the picture was not particularly promising then – but in just a few short years, with real leadership and support from the team here at Automotive, Joshua’s in a great place now, and, as he said, on his way to Virginia Union University in the fall where he’ll be studying biology, which means there’ll be a host of great career options for him up ahead. Joshua, congratulations – you have a lot to be proud of.

The fact is a lot is happening here. We just sat in with a group of teachers who are working incessantly to improve their own craft – by working with each other to figure out better ways to reach the students who are hardest to reach. It is impossible to sit in one of those rooms and not immediately identify the level of commitment so many of our teachers have – how much they believe in the work they’re doing. And in fact, what was evident in the room was these teachers want to reach the toughest-to-reach kids. They want to crack the code, if you will, and figure out what’s going to get through to the kids. It was like sitting amongst a group of detectives looking for clues together to figure out how to solve a case. These teachers are committed, energetic, creative, and they’re committed to the future of this school.

I asked them what they thought about the future of this school, and every single one of them expressed optimism because they believed in what was going on. They believed in the school leadership, they believed in the investments being made, they believed in their students first and foremost. And it was very interesting to hear them talk about how much potential they saw in their students and how much potential had gone unrealized previously – that they wanted to be the ones to break through. So it was very, very encouraging to see.

I want to thank our host. Now, Joshua talked about his principal, and any principal who gets that much praise from a student should be proud of her work – that’s the ultimate test. I want to say, to hearken back to my roots, the full and proper pronunciation of her name is Caterina Lafergola. Her family is from Naples, just down the street from where my family’s from. And she has been doing great, great work here since 2011, driving change in this school incessantly. And Caterina came into a school that she knew was filled with challenges, but she wanted the challenge. We often talk about with our first responders they walk towards the danger. A lot of our educations walk towards the toughest situations and know they have to fix them – and that is what Caterina has done.

I want to thank, of course, Chancellor Fariña for her extraordinary leadership. She has been, as is her habit, visiting renewal schools all over the city, leading from the front. And whenever you go to a school with the chancellor, you notice her immediately starting to give tips to the principal and the teachers and, engage them in how they can improve their craft – and that is because she has the respect of all that she commands because of her extraordinary history.

You’re also going to hear in a moment from our Executive Superintendent for Renewal Schools Amy Horowitz, who has hit the ground running. Big job on her hands – 94 schools to turn around – she is showing extraordinary energy and innovation already in her approach. Now, Amy is no stranger to this work. She has dealt with some of our toughest schools and has played a big role in turning some of them around, and now she’s going to do it on a much bigger scale. And we talked about, a few days back, in Richmond Hill, that Amy’s going to use a whole host of strategies, including adopting the CompStat strategy to the work of renewing our struggling schools – looking at the performance indicators, yes, but really taking that concept and using it as a way to drill down student by student on literally what each and every student in the school needs to succeed. That’s something you saw at Richmond Hill. I talked to a lot of you about the charts on the wall that literally showed how every student was doing. That’s something Caterina is working on. As she said – when I questioned her outside the building, she said immediately, “I know every student who is in trouble and needs help, and we have a plan we’re working on for each and every student.” That is how pinpoint and precise this effort is. And it’s something that gives me a lot of hope for outcome when I see that level of ownership – principals and teachers believing they have to win this student by student. That is actually how things turn around.

We have with us Council Member Steve Levin. I want to thank him – we’re honored to be in your district and thank you for your support for all we’re doing to turn these schools around.

You know, in the past there was a notion that a school that struggled just had to be shut down, period. We just don’t agree with that. We don’t agree with giving up without a fight. When a school can be turned around, including many schools with proud traditions and a lot of people deeply committed to them, we are going to do everything we know how to do to turn that school around, and Automotive is a great example – where changes in strategy, changes in leadership, changes in investment are already causing profound differences for the better. That’s what we believe in.

We also believe in accountability – and, you know, there’s a big discussion going on right now about mayoral control of education. And I am a strong believer in that system, but I also want to point out how it works in this context. We say here’s a school that can be turned around. We develop a strategy – it’s all quite public and transparent. I’ve said we’re going to give the schools up to three years, but if we don’t see progress, I will shut them down – it’s as simple as that. I take personal responsibility for the decision. Now, I am an optimist by nature. I believe when you take great leadership and put proper resources in, amazing things can happen and they can happen fast – I’ve seen it happen time and time again – but I’m also clear about the fact that each and every one of these principals and the superintendent and the chancellor are accountable to me for the changes we have to make, and I will ultimately make the decision on whether some of these schools are not making sufficient progress.

We’ve laid out a clear template – a timeline of the kinds of investments we’re going to make – again, depending on the school, might be new leadership, might be master teachers. Every one of our renewal schools will get an extra period of instruction. Every one of our renewal schools will be a community school. Every one of our renewal schools will get additional after-school programming, some will get summer programming. We are taking a host of tools and applying them fast and relentlessly. In the case of Automotive, as is the case of Boys and Girls here in Brooklyn, we’ve also come to a clear agreement with the teachers that every teacher is going to be reevaluated for next year, and those who don’t fit in this school in the middle of this particular fight to improve the school won’t be here. Some will be elsewhere, some might leave the system, but the ones who are ready to be a part of this change – and I think there are a lot of them, judging from the meeting we just had – the principal’s going to take that group of teachers into battle next year and continue this progress.

So there’s an urgency running through this approach. Everyone feels an urgency about making these changes and making them quickly. One of the things I want to commend the chancellor for, the superintendent, and the principal – no one is talking about anything going slow. Everyone is set on a fast speed, because they want these changes to happen right now, including right now reaching some kids who are not on track to graduate and turning that around literally in the next few months. We also heard from the principal of Richmond Hill about that same reality. This is hands-on and, again, student-by-student.

Every school has different needs, and we’re applying different tools to each school. So in the case of Automotive, a leadership coach has come in – [inaudible] – with a great track record – previously at Sunset Park High School – bringing in additional talent and perspective to help the team here improve their practice all the time. Math and writing coaches are being brought in. This school, again, will be a community school, meaning there’ll be additional health programs, there’ll be additional counseling, there’ll be additional efforts to engage parents. This school is adding more AP classes to have a more rigorous curriculum. Also, recognizing that a lot of our career and technical education needs to be updated, so this school is updating its programs.

Each one of these efforts – excuse me – each one of these efforts makes for a more vibrant school, a school that’s on the move and is better able to engage its students.

Now, what’s happened on Caterina’s gives us faith in this turnaround. Let me give you some statistics. More than twice as many students are now in after-school programs than when she came here. Attendance is up to 83 percent – the highest in a decade here. This is a much safer campus. Joshua talked about the challenges students used to face – if you’re not in a safe environment, you can’t learn. On Caterina’s watch, gang-related activity is down 91 percent, violent incidents down 33 percent, suspensions down 47 percent just compared to last year alone. These are the changes that we have to make.

Now, I’ll just say a couple more things, but one I must say – I’ve mentioned how strongly I believe in mayoral control of education, how much accountability it creates, and how it allows us to do things fast and to have clear lines of authority in that process – something that was absent for years and years in our school system before mayoral control.

We also need to note, as we think about Albany, that the time has come for Albany to recognize its obligation – not just to the New York City public schools, but to other school systems around the state that didn’t get their fair share of education funding. As I always say, this is not an idea I created or education advocates created or teachers created. This was determined by the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in this state, in 2006, which laid out a binding formula for fair funding for schools, under which New York City schools would be getting $2.6 billion dollars more this year if fair funding were applied. That would give us immeasurable possibilities in terms of reaching so many kids that we’re not reaching well enough right now. I’ve said many times – we have 171,000 kids with special needs alone. Those resources would have a transcendent impact on our ability to serve them. We’re going to keep fighting for it in Albany. I know everyone rightfully says the battle is tough, but it is something established by the Court of Appeals, and we’re never going to turn away from that commitment. We have to keep working until it’s fulfilled.

I want to end my comments – and I’ll just say a couple words in Spanish – but I want to end my comments by saying something that the principal said that really captures – it’s a simple sentence, but it captures the pure governing ethic of everything we’re doing with our 94 renewal schools. She said every student is worth the effort. It is as simple as that – every student is worth the effort. And everything we’re doing is student-by-student-by-student. We turn around schools one student at a time, and we do it fast, and we serve a lot of kids simultaneously, but it’s about changing the trajectory of each individual student. Joshua is a great example of what happens when you apply the right support and encouragement to a young person. We need that for all of our children.

In Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, let us turn to the expert herself – our schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña.

[…]

Mayor: One last point before we take questions – we’ll take on-topic, followed by off-topic – the career in technical education – so CTE, just so everyone’s on the same page – career in technical education – the chancellor and I have been talking about this for a long time. We have to profoundly update our approach to careers in technical education to align to the 21st century economy, to align to where the jobs are in this city and beyond. That work is happening at Automotive, as they’re updating their programs. But really, we care deeply that every one of our students when they leave our school system has a path forward. For many, it will be college. For many others, it will be a career. So long as they are properly prepared for either, it is a success. But not preparing them for a clear path means we’re not getting where we need to be – and that work is happening every day here as part of the renewal process.

With that, let’s take on-topic questions – on topic. On topic? Yes–

Question: I just wondered if I can ask Joshua – was there a single moment when you came to understand that you were on the wrong path and decided to switch gears, so-to-speak, in this school?

Joshua Harding: Yes, there was a few moments that I’ve had where I felt like I needed to change my ways, but I didn’t do it on my own. The talks from the principals, the teachers, and the deans here helped me the whole way through.

Question: But was there one moment [inaudible] where the light bulb went off and you said wait a minute?   

Joshua Harding: A dean, Mr. Bradley, who is no longer here with us – he sat down with me one day. I was having trouble, like outside and inside of the school, and he said some things to me that really – it got to me, like it touched me. So, I didn’t want to disappoint my mom; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone here at the building. So, at that moment I felt like I should’ve changed. And it didn’t happen overnight, it took me a few months – it took more than one talk. And I just kept going.

Question: Do you ever think about coming back as a teacher?

Joshua Harding: As a teacher? Maybe.

Mayor: Tell him what you want to do [inaudible].

Joshua Harding: I would – I would like to come back. It’s a bicycle repair shop inside the school – I would love to come back and work on the bikes with students.

Mayor: Excellent. Thank you very much, Joshua. You know, I do want to – before we go on with on-topic questions – I skipped my own order here – my apologies – but I do want you to hear from the principal who’s done so much over these last few years to turn this school around, Principal Caterina Lafergola. I‘m going to get that in every chance I get.

[Automotive High School Principal Caterina Lafergola speaks]

Mayor: Well done.

Okay, continuing on topic – did I see – yes.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I would give you the simple answer – mayoral control works. The jury came back a long time ago. There’s extraordinary support here in this city across the spectrum – across the partisan spectrum, amongst business and labor – there is a consensus in a city that doesn’t reach consensus that often. There’s a consensus that mayoral control is a fundamental way to reform education and improve education. We have over a decade of evidence. It’s very, very simple. There is no debate here. It’s time for Albany to renew mayoral control. Now, I remind you that you can look at the alternative of where we came from, and where we came from was a dysfunctional school system that lacked leadership and accountability; that was very different depending on which school district you were in, so it lacked fairness and equality; and tragically in many school districts, was rife with corruption. The previous governing system was filled with corruption. So, when you look at where we came from and then you look at where we are today, the kinds of changes that the principal just described were possible under a mayoral control system because you can put in leadership, hold them accountable. Literally, the accountability goes right up to the top. Every piece of the equation has to fit together. The fact that we’re acting on these 94 renewal schools simultaneously with a program that affects all of them simultaneously would have been impossible under the previous system. We never would have been able to implement full-day pre-k in the kind of time frame we’ve done it here under the previous system. So, to me it’s obvious that mayoral control works and it’s a profound reform. Albany should just act on it now – it’s as simple as that. They should simply address it now, so we can continue the work with reforming our schools.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I don’t deal with hypotheticals. My response is very simple – there’s still time on the clock before the budgets due – you know, let’s go and resolve this. I think there’s a lot of voices in Albany that understand that mayoral control is a necessary reform that’s going to keep moving our schools forward. They have a chance to do something about it – let’s renew mayoral control now.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Say again.

Question: [inaudible]  

Mayor: It’s the same answer. It’s – again, the jury came back, mayoral control obviously works. So, it should be acted on now. In other words, why would we want to delay making a decision that’s self-evident? It – we should renew mayoral control right now and we should do it as quickly as possible. I don’t think there’s a reason for any intermediary step.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Well, we talked about this at Richmond Hill, and the chancellor and the superintendent can speak to this, but we’re expecting change to begin immediately in areas like attendance and credit accumulation. But again, a lot of the pieces of the renewal program will really hit hard in September. So, you’re going to see a big build-out in September in terms of them being community schools, having after-school capacity, etcetera. But, you know, the change begins immediately and then resources keep flowing in.

You want to add?

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña: I would say that the major change that we can see right now – I was in two of the schools yesterday – is you’re going to see much more focus on attendance and a real concentrated effort. And when attendance is not good, what is done about it? Much more concentrated effort on parent engagement; what does it look like? What does it mean?  How do parents get more involved in being – instructive ways that they can help their kids at home? And I say the biggest change, certainly in elementary and even in middle schools, is a much more concentrated effort on teacher professional development. All the teachers in renewal schools are undergoing professional development. The grant that we just got from General Electric, a lot of that money for STEM is going to be going to renewal schools. So, we anticipate the teachers will have more tools to be able to work with students who are struggling.

Executive Superintendent for Renewal Schools Aimee Horowitz: We’re also working – like I’ve said before, each school is being taken as an individual. So, we’re working with a group of schools that have had issues with retaining staff. And so we’ve looked at that data and are piloting a group of schools to work on teacher retention – and those schools will be getting intensive support. So that information is being communicated to schools this week. And throughout all of the renewal schools, as Chancellor Farina said – throughout elementary, middle, and high school, there is an intense effort on teacher professional development, on leadership coaching. So, while we don’t necessarily see the fruits of that labor immediately those will be some of the – that will have the impact on the lagging indicator. And then we also have borough center regional directors that have been named that are working on putting together regional support centers that will work in collaboration with superintendents to further support the schools, and provide them with information and hands-on help in creating budgets that work for the schools to meet student needs, in assisting with professional development, along with our superintendents and their teams.

Mayor: Just to add – you know, I’ve been in, as I said, three renewal schools in the last two weeks or so. Part of the point here is we’re sending a message up and down the line of accountability. I am constantly asking the chancellor and the superintendent what’s going on in these schools. They are turning around and pushing the principals. The principals are pushing the teachers. Everyone is in a line of authority that’s making the point clear – we need improvement and we need it now. In the previous approach, when there was a default position of closing a school, even if there had not been investments made, it didn’t exactly incentivize people to keep fighting. If you thought you were on the chopping block and that help wasn’t coming, or you weren’t being held to a higher standard, you know, in many cases it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the exact opposite. Everyone is being told, you can and will succeed, and we’re going to provide a lot of focus, a lot of resources, a lot of support. But we’re also going to be, you know, demanding of your results constantly. And that’s where a CompStat-style system is very, very helpful – constantly look at what’s going on in each school – and then that further encourages the principals to deepen their way of analyzing the work of, literally, each and every student to keep pushing the change from the student level.  I think the Principal Lafergola is right that this is absolutely something you win student by student. And so, if you think about it, the power of this model is from the mayor on down the message goes, “Keep helping and moving each student, supporting each student.” And that adds up to a real urgency that we believe can yield immediate changes. We’ve shown it now in these three schools, things happening very differently, even then, compared to months ago. And it also sets the stage for much bigger changes as we go into September.

Yes?

Question: I’m wondering who coined the term renewal schools and [inaudible]?

Mayor: I would love to know that. Do you remember who coined it? Was it Tony? It may be Tony Shorris. All right – we’re nominating First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris – it may well be him – and we’re going to get you a firm answer as soon as we determine what it was.

Question: Follow-up on Michael’s question – I was hoping to also hear from the chancellor [inaudible]. The governor called mayoral control an experiment and is not willing to make it permanent. You’ve recently rolled out a ton of support for it all across the aisle. What do you think it specifically says about the governor [inaudible]?

Mayor: Before – before [inaudible] – always encourage the chancellor’s voice, but let me offer an observation first.

Unknown: [inaudible]

Mayor: Either way. I’ll be happy to serve.

Look, this really shouldn’t be about politics – that’s what I’m saying. There’s a consensus here that is rare in public policy. And look at the – editorial boards have weighed in; look at the business leaders who weighed in – folks who often don’t agree with each other, let alone agree with everything that my administration does – but everyone’s united on this point. This is the difference-maker. This is the crucial reform. Without mayoral control, so many other things can’t happen. It is proven – I think it’s something that’s been proven in the biggest school system in the country for over a decade. That’s not an experiment. That’s a fact. That’s a proven fact. And something that has this extraordinary bipartisan consensus here in this city and all over the state – it should transcend politics. So, I – I just think this is not a political question. This is a question of how we keep improving our schools and Albany has a chance to act on that right now.

Chancellor Fariña: By virtue of the fact that I have 50 years in education, I have seen every single way of governing schools – decentralized, centralized, school boards, regional – I’ve done it all. And the reality is I would have never have taken this job at this time if there wasn’t mayoral control, because I really need to be able to have a partner who makes decisions with us, but then gives me the right to get it done. In the old days as a superintendent, you’d have to go through many layers; you’d have to follow certain rules – sometimes the rules were good, but also, it led to a lot of inequity. And, you know, we work together – [inaudible], superintendent – and I will tell you that we didn’t always agree on things, but the reality is it also meant that a lot of things didn’t happen in an orderly way. And it also meant that although District 15 that we were a part of was done – worked very well compared to the rest of the city, when I inherited other districts within my region I saw unbelievable inequities. I saw 50 percent of principals chosen because of patronage. I saw people who were related to other people – there was one school board in the city where every member of the school board had someone who was either a principal or an assistant principal. So, we can’t go back to those days. We can’t go back. We’re not – and you’re in a place now – we’re saying one of the things at renewal schools – if it’s not the right leader, well, we’re going to make sure it’s a different leader. We would not have been able to do that under any of the other systems. So, I do believe in this mayoral control, and I do believe that it’s better for kids. It’s not about better for the mayor or better for the governor, but it is better for kids.

Mayor: Two quick examples on this point. The chancellor just really identified the core of the matter. The chancellor comes in and says here’s an approach on renewal schools that will turn these schools around. We debated, we evaluated, and then when we say go it means the entire weight of the mayoralty and the school system supports that effort. There’s nothing standing in the way of action. That’s why this effort is moving so quickly. Also pre-k – from the day the funding was voted until the day school opened, five months to add 33,000 full-day pre-k seats – inconceivable in the previous model with community school boards. The number of people in this city who are thankful that their kids got pre-k or their kids are going to get it next year – I constantly meet people who say thank you for pre-k, thank you for afterschool, who are in these schools that we’re turning around. There is so much appreciation because they’re finally seeing the education system respond to them quickly. That was not true a few years ago in this town. And these changes are urgent – and the only way you can make change, the only way you can reform schools is through mayoral control of education.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I think that’s a mis-explanation of the reality. And it’s – look, that, in effect, is a partisan statement. I understand some people have a very different view of how our school system should be organized. The chancellor and I believe fundamentally in our traditional public schools that educate the vast majority of our kids and always will. We want to strengthen our traditional public schools. Of course we’re going to work with our charter schools as well – we also work with our religious schools – but, in the end, we’re talking about saving a school that has so much to offer and not leaving a generation of kids in the lurch – because that’s what happened. There’s plenty of evidence of what happened when schools were closed, phased out over years. The kids in those phase-out years were treated very poorly in many cases and did not get the best educational opportunities. When we say up to three years to turn around, that doesn’t [inaudible] standing still, because I’ve said very publicly if I don’t see constant progress, I can close a school before that. But I think three years to get fully up to speed is fair because we’re constantly investing. Remember, you didn’t see this investment model in the past. The closest thing we had was the chancellor’s district, which had some of the characteristics of what we’re doing here, but not all of them by any stretch of the imagination. Mayoral control of education – obviously the chancellor’s district didn’t have that advantage. You have the combined impact of the community school effort, additional afterschool, additional period of instruction, where needed new leadership, new master teachers – this is a huge concentration of investment and change in the school. That’s why it yields results starting immediately. So for those who criticize, maybe they’re criticizing something they know from the past, but if they’re actually looking at the model we’re using now, it causes urgent change right now.

Please –

Question: Can you speak to exactly what you think is wrong with Governor Cuomo’s alternative plan to allow the state to come in and take over some of these troubled schools?

Mayor: I think the bottom line here is in the mayoral control system – and again, I can’t speak for other parts of the state that have other systems – I’m speaking for a mayoral control system where there’s clear lines of accountability and the ability to act on these schools immediately. I think anything that clouds those lines is unhelpful. I don’t think – with all due respect to folks who work in Albany – I don’t think that bureaucrats 150 miles away are going to do a better job of solving our problems than our own chancellor and our own principals and teachers will do. I think here we have absolute and total accountability. I’ve said it – I think – you know, people would have a right to say where are the lines of authority? Well, under mayoral control, they’re extremely clear. That may not be so true in other systems, but here they’re extremely clear. What’s the timeline? The timeline is no more than three years, and I reserve my right to close schools earlier if I’m not satisfied. What’s the methodology? We have a renewal school plan that lays out exactly what we’re spending, how we’re going to go about it, what tools we’re using. We have a leadership team. We have a set number of schools. It’s so specific and clear that there’s absolute accountability. So I think state interference in that will only slow down the changes that we need to make.

Question: Short of closing the schools, one of the things you actually don’t have flexibility with is staffing. Automotive and Boys and Girls have these unusual agreements [inaudible] all teachers and principals have reapplied for their jobs, or they’ll be reapplying for their jobs. How important is that at those schools? And if it is important, will that be a problem at all of the other schools, because ultimately I’ve heard what school closure was in the past was a way of making all the teachers have to reapply for jobs in the new school that was formed in that building?

Mayor: Well, a fair analysis – and the problem is the new school that was formed in that building may or may not have been a good model – and again, a lot of kids get left – got left in the lurch during the transition. So what we say here is from the beginning, we’re accounting for the kind of teams we need to turn around a school. So, again, in some cases it’s going to be a new principal. I think already seven principals have been replaced. In some cases, it’s going to be bringing in master teachers. It’s different models for different schools, but what I think is crucial to recognize here is – I really believe that this is sort of what the missing link in a lot of the education debate. Most teachers are here for the right reason. Most teachers can do a lot better if they’re given training and additional support and good leadership. That’s the sort of core of so much of what we’re trying to do system-wide – that is very, very clear in the teacher contract; very clear in the additional teacher training efforts being made in these schools.  So, start with the tools you have – a lot of teachers who are committed and can be made better. There’s a certain number of folks who should not be teaching. As we’ve said recently, 291 of them are no longer teaching because of concerted efforts [inaudible] to move them out – and that will continue. So, these two schools, because of their particular circumstance, we took an additional step with the union of agreeing to reset the whole teaching group and giving the principals the opportunity to figure out who really fit the model they were using. But even short of such a large solution, if you will, we’ve found the ability to make the moves we need to make – whether it’s a principal change or teacher changes, through other methodologies as well. And much more importantly – sort of the horse before the cart – is strengthening the teachers we have who do belong in these schools who are ready to fight; adding to them additional strong teachers – master teachers, model teachers who want to go to the frontline of this and bring their particular skill. It’s a totally different understanding of how you deal with the problem than what existed before, but we’re already seeing how powerful this model can be.

Do you want to add anything?

Chancellor Fariña: One of the things is that principals still have within their purview the ability to remove ineffective teachers – and we’re working very strongly on that in schools where – one of the things that I do when I visit a school, one of the first I ask a principal is, you know, show me an exemplary classroom and show me a teacher you’re concerned about. And we’re really encouraging – not just to principals in renewal schools – this is across the city – if we’re going to raise the level of education so more people want to come into education, we have to make it a profession that says only the best need apply. So that is how we’re dealing with everything. And I just want to correct one number that the mayor just said, because he’ll be very proud – you haven’t heard it yet – we’re up to 309 teachers.

Mayor: Update!

Chancellor Fariña: Update! You [inaudible] going to have it in an hour, but you get it ahead of time. So we’re making a real concentrated effort on making sure that only the best be teachers in our schools.

Mayor: And I did appreciate that. So, first of all, thank you for the update – 309 folks who should be in a different profession helped to a different profession. But only the best need apply is the point – the emphasis on incessantly improving the quality of the teacher core. That’s how you get to the core of the changes we have to make. And I think the message has gone out very clearly. In effect, we’re upping everyone’s game here. The level of demand is rising all the time. I think the message to everyone in the profession is get ready to play harder, get ready to reach a higher standard. If you don’t want to do that, we’ll help you move on to something else. But if you’re ready to go to a more rigorous place, which is where this school system has to go, we will support you with the best leadership, with lots of training, with lots of support. But we’re not going to halfway here. We’re taking the whole system to a higher level of achievement.

Marcia –

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: We’re staying on this. Let’s just finish on topic. In the back –

Question: [inaudible] hiring process [inaudible]?

Mayor: [inaudible] hiring for next year for teachers.

Question: The second question, [inaudible]?

Principal Caterina Lafergola, Automotive High School: So, currently we’re in the process of negotiating collaboratively with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators to determine what the criteria will be for the hiring process so that it is equitable for all applicants. What I’d like to see is people who espouse the same theory as the team – as my team – which is what’s best for kids. Our children, specifically children in schools that have struggled, deserve the same level of education as schools that have been highly successful. Our students need advocacy, and that’s probably the biggest difference between the students in our schools and the students in other schools – is the lack of advocacy. And it is our moral imperative to provide that advocacy through our teaching and our administrative staff.

Superintendent Horowitz: I am going to add to what Caterina has said. So, in our collaboration with the UFT and the CFA in this hiring process, everyone at the table – so this is unusual, right? That everyone at the table – the DOE, the CFA, and the UFT – all realize the urgency of this work and the need to have the best and the most qualified teachers that are committed to doing this work at our schools that are – that have been struggling. And so I’m confident that the collaborative process, the same way it yielding rigorous criteria for principal hiring, will yield very rigorous criteria for teacher hiring, and will allow us to have the most effective teachers at our schools.

Chancellor Fariña: And I want to add that in the past if you were a struggling school – because  teachers who couldn’t get jobs anywhere who ended up there – or it’s teachers who someone else didn’t want and they said why don’t you go work there. We’re turning this totally around. We’re saying only the best need apply. And because we’re raising the bar, and someone who now will get a job here can say I was chosen specifically because I have criteria the other people don’t have, I think is a really, really important part of this initiative.

Mayor: Very powerful point. I want to just add two things. So, one – that point that a teacher that no principal believes they can use effectively we are going to help out of the school system It’s as simple as that – and that is a sea change from the past. In the past, there was a go-along-get-along reality that even someone who shouldn’t be in the profession was tolerated. We’re not going to tolerate that. Second – there’s a bigger thing going on here, which will reveal itself in the coming months, that, you know, around the world you see some very powerful examples of management and labor working together – some of them very well-documented – different approaches that have been used to kind of break through some of the historical problems and treat the situation as one where everyone has a common goal of improving the work. That’s what’s happening. That’s what the chancellor, the superintendent, and the principal are describing – a situation where we take away some of the conflict of the past, we say okay, it’s everyone’s business to turn this school around, how are we going to do that? Those who don’t want to participate don’t need to be a part of this system anymore, but people who really do want to participate in making that change we’re going to welcome them and it’s going to be collaborative and it’s not going to be conflictual. The absence of conflict is what led to a contract with the teachers union filled with innovation – 200 schools where we’re going to suspend UFT work rules and DOE rules, the ability to use severance to help people out of the profession who should not be in the profession, a much greater focus on teacher interaction with parents, much more time being devoted to teacher training. All of that came out of an atmosphere of collaboration. So I think what’s being under-discussed here is how a paradigm shift has led to a lot of very practical outcomes. The sort of armed camps of the reality of a few years ago didn’t yield a lot of reform. We believe reform comes from a collaborative system.

What was your second question?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Because we have a budget coming in April. The executive budget is coming out.

Question: In the preliminary budget that you put out in February [inaudible]?

Mayor: Yeah well, look, let me clarify. We do in the preliminary budget some things. Other things are still being worked on and perfected through April. This is true every single year. The preliminary budget is clearly not the final say on what we’re going to bat with for the end of the budget process. A lot is not fine-tuned until late April when we come up with the executive, so that’s true every year.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Because, again – a lot of different pieces we work on to perfect – we might want to add some additional elements to them. You know, it’s just a constant process. And I think the simple way to say it is this – in the preliminary, everything we’re 100 percent sure is ready and fully baked in time for the preliminary in February goes out in February. The other things we’re still working on go out in April. So, it’s an ongoing process. On topic – last call. On topic first. On topic going – student journalist? 

Question: [inaudible] 

Mayor: So yes, and then I’m going to bring the principal up. I really want to commend the principal for – excuse me – for her focus on he role of students in changing their own school, in taking some responsibility and ownership for the changes they have to make to create a better environment for everyone. I think that’s crucial. Why don’t you talk about some of the ways you do that?

Principal Lafergola: So Ryan, your question is about how students are going to be involved in making our school a community school. So, I guess, I want you to go back to your first year here and think about the cafeteria issue. Do you remember that? Do you remember that vaguely? The situation where the students came to me and initially we thought that they were complaining about the school food because that’s just what kids do – they complain about the school food. But then I said I need proof. I need to see what you’re talking about. And I would have students – and this is God’s honest truth – every lunch period come up with food that was still frozen, food that was moldy, food that was just – I wouldn’t feed it to my pet. And so we sat down in student government and we said how can we fix the problem? And we came up with a bunch of different ideas, and one of them utilized the school garden that we have in front of our building and integrated fresh fruits and vegetables. And we worked with the cafeteria staff and we got the people outside of the building from school nutrition to come and speak to the students. They did a tasting for the students – that they would change the menu. So, basically, how we’re going to change our school to a community school, Ryan, is collaboratively in the same way that we’re going to change all of the schools that are being impacted by community schools – it’s through conversation that is anchored in evidence, and not on hearsay and not on speculation; and it is coming to the table with solutions and not bringing more problems; and being willing to listen and exchange ideas for a common good. So, to my knowledge, if I had my [inaudible] that’s how it would look, but I don’t know what the bigger plan is yet.  

Mayor: [inaudible] Okay, last call. On topic – going once – going twice. You’re coming over? Last call? Good, go ahead. 

Question: This has to do with John Dewey High School where there’s a lot going [inaudible]

Mayor: All right, wait – let’s do one at a time. Go ahead.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I don’t assume because some teachers talked to you that that’s the whole truth. I believe very, very strongly in the quality of our investigations unit. I think all of you have reported for years on the different investigations that have been undertaken with the Department of Education very aggressively. I have absolute faith in the integrity of that unit. So, I don’t know what these individual teachers said to you, but my view is that that professional group – again, with all due respect, that’s one group who gave you one story. I have faith that our investigators have very high standards and will get any and all evidence because we take the charges very seriously. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Again, you are offering information I would call hearsay. I am deeply troubled – Marcia, I’m not going to go back and forth with you. So, if you want to have an answer, we’ll have an answer. Otherwise, I’ll call on someone else. Okay? What do you want? Thank you. We are deeply troubled by any allegation of grade-fixing or test-fixing. We take it very, very seriously. I’m a public school parent. I would not tolerate, as a parent, knowing that anyone in my school that my kid goes to was doing such a thing. I also have absolute faith in the chancellor and the people who do the investigations that they will thoroughly investigate. Many times, what you hear in the first instance is not what actually proves to be the truth. So there’s a full investigation going on, and when we have the results we’ll make them public. 

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: We’ve said what we needed to say. Go ahead. Marcia, let’s let other people go.

Question: Does it concern you at all that the person you selected to be the new NYCHA general manager was forced to resign, apparently, from his job in Philadelphia over allegations [inaudible] possibly giving a preference – a job improperly? 

Mayor: He is extraordinarily experienced, having led some of the biggest public housing authorities in the country – and very effectively. It’s very hard to run a public housing authority in an age of constantly diminishing resources, and Mike Kelly has done that very well. So I have a lot of faith in his skill and what he brings to the table. He made a mistake in Philly – there’s no two ways about it. He owned up to. He was reprimanded for it. There was a full investigation. The investigation proved that there had been no negative outcomes from the mistake he made in terms of how the work was done. So human beings make mistakes, but if they own up to it, and if they don’t do anything that harms the work, I think, you know, it’s right to give someone another chance. But in terms of the quality and experience he brings, it’s unparalleled in the nation. And I think he’s going to help us continue to make NYCHA a better place.

Question: [Inaudible] former mayor Giuliani – you’ve certainly has been critical of each other [inaudible]. Has that, after 15 months in office [inaudible] change the relationship between you two, in your view [inaudible]?

Mayor: No, I think – look, I think there’s going to be times when we agree, and when we do, I’m perfectly comfortable saying when I agree with him, and I appreciate when he says he agrees with me and when we think something is in the larger interest of the city. This is something, you’ll remember – Mayor Giuliani very much wanted mayoral control of schools and thought it would be transcendent. It proved to be transcendent and I commend Mayor Bloomberg for having achieved it. I think, one thing that’s true is former mayors and current mayors often can see some of these situations similarly. But on the question of sort of broader philosophy – no, Mayor Giuliani and I often disagree. But I do appreciate his support on this issue.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: No – from time to time, but not regularly.         

Question: Another question about the NYCHA general manager – the head of the EDC is leaving [inaudible]. The head of NYCHA – general manager – is leaving for [inaudible]. Are you cleaning house of the remaining Bloomberg folks?

Mayor: No, each situation is individual. One thing I think is abundantly clear is that the most senior positions – there were very, very few holdovers. I think, in the case of Kyle Kimball at EDC, he did a great job. In the case of Cecil House at NYCHA, he did a great job. I’m very comfortable with the work they did. I had a great working relationship. Each made their own decisions. Both had come from the private sector. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to it. But both served very well – both really good public servants – and you know, it was just a moment where they made a personal decision.

Question: Follow up – are there any other Bloomberg folks who are left?

Mayor: There are a few. I mean, at the highest level, there are a handful. And obviously, there’s some others at middle levels. Sally?

Question: Mayor, do you share the concerns that have been raised recently about this proposed – plastic bag tax proposal [inaudible] low-income communities? 

Mayor: Look, I think the underlying goal is a good one – that there is an environmental problem and a sanitation problem created by these plastic bags, and we have to find a way to wean ourselves off of them. There’s more than one way to do that. So, I haven’t weighed in yet, because we’re still evaluating if the proposal that’s been put forward is both effective and fair, and I think there are legitimate concerns. The goal is the right goal. We’ll soon be able to say if we think it’s that one or a different strategy that’s the most effective.

Question: Mr. Mayor, yesterday, Council Member Antonio Reynoso [inaudible] from Brooklyn [inaudible] day care facilities. What do you think about that? [inaudible]

Mayor: We don’t ignore anyone’s plea. Obviously, I spent a lot of years working on the question of daycare when I was chairman of the general welfare committee. I don’t know all the details of the two cases that he was protesting, but the broader situation – the challenge we’re facing is ever-rising rents. And we have to pay market-rate, you know, for rents to some of these facilities. We’re trying to resolve – in constant negotiations with landlords – ways to, you know, attain a long-term positive outcome for these daycare facilities. I believe in them fundamentally. So no, his concerns are not falling on deaf ears. Okay?

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: It’s not her range – her purview because it’s the Administration for Children’s Services, so – we good? Okay, thanks everyone.   

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