November 3, 2014
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToFYsATu0-g&list=UUlnI1zhyzv_BPb-VSHEtniw
Remarks as delivered –
First Lady Chirlane McCray: Good morning, everyone.
Audience: Good morning!
First Lady McCray: Welcome. I'm so happy to be here today. Now, as many of you know, this is a very big year for our family. In June, Dante – our very tall baby boy – will graduate from Brooklyn Tech.
[Applause and Cheers]
Of course, Bill and I are beyond excited for Dante. The future is wide open for him, and we can't wait to see where he goes next. But to be honest, we're also a little sad. Dante's graduation means the end of a journey – a journey that began before Dante and his older sister Chiara were born.
Bill and I always knew that we would send our kids to public school. That was just a given. One of the reasons both of us moved here was because of New York City's exciting diversity. And I'm not just talking about ethnic diversity. I'm talking about economic diversity, intellectual diversity, faith diversity, and every other kind of diversity you can think of. So of course we wanted our children to be educated in classrooms that reflect the city, and that meant public schools.
Just listing the names of the schools Chiara and Dante attended brings back so many memories – P.S. 372, The Children's School.
We have some Children's School folks here, all right.
M.S. 51, William Alexander Middle School.
The Beacon School, where Chiara went to high school.
And now Brooklyn Tech, Dante's soon to be alma mater.
Now, don't get me wrong. Not all of those memories are filled with sunshine and rainbows. As many of you know, being a parent means facing a never-ending stream of obstacles, both big and small.
For example, there were some dinner table conversations when Dante or Chiara would pour out their frustrations about a teacher who allegedly had it in for them. And, lucky for me, Bill was at his best in those situations. After patiently listening to all of their allegations, everything they had to say, he would help them take a step back and see the situation through the eyes of the teacher. He would ask, what is your class like? Is the teacher facing any challenges you may be overlooking? Are you showing the teacher your best self? Did you do your homework?
Bill is great at humanizing teachers, at helping Chiara and Dante realize they were doing their best in one of the world’s hardest jobs. And his advice for fixing the situation was always the same – just talk to your teacher. Make her your partner. You both have the same goals – figure out how you can both work together to achieve them.
Bill’s advice was always met with great skepticism. After all, what did Dad, who hadn’t been in school for decades, know about dealing with teachers? But my husband is a very persuasive man – and in the end, Chiara and Dante would take his advice – and guess what? It worked. It always worked.
Bill’s strategy was built around a simple philosophy – the key to solving classroom challenges is approaching educators as partners, not adversaries – and that strategy served him well as a father. And now, it’s guiding his work as a mayor.
Educators played a central role in the development, launch, and implementation of universal pre-k. Educators played a central role in the development, launch, and implementation of after-school programs for all middle school students. And I know educators who play a central role in this administration’s campaign to build a public school system that works for all of our children.
That’s just how Bill does things – always has, always will. So it is now my pleasure to introduce the best dinner table diplomat I know –
– the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Thank you. Please. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone, for being here on this historic day.
And now you have further proof of why I am the most blessed man in New York City to have Chirlane McCray for a wife, a partner in all I do.
And as our first lady, she is speaking so powerfully to what we need to do to bring this city forward. And she gives of herself her time and energy to make this city a better place. Let’s thank her for all she does for the people of this city.
It is such a pleasure to be with you and it is such a pleasure to be at the Coalition – [clears throat] – the Coalition School for Social Change. And a lot of really wonderful leaders have joined us today for this occasion – a lot of city leaders and officials, community members, community activists and leaders of all types – because we all care so deeply about making the changes we need in our schools. I want to thank our elected officials – in particular, thank one who represents this district and is our extraordinary partner in government as the speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito – thank you for your leadership.
And I’d like to thank the captain of this ship here at the Coalition School, Principal John Sullivan, for the extraordinary work he does.
Now this school is in the heart of East Harlem, one of the great communities in New York City – a community full of enormous pride and energy.
You can clap for East Harlem!
And you can feel that something’s happening in this school. This is a school on the move, a school getting better all the time. You can feel it when you walk in the door. So it’s a perfect place to be talking about today’s subject – how we improve our schools across the board and particularly the schools that need help the most.
Now, I’ve got to say something about Principal Sullivan, because he epitomizes the kind of leaders who are part of the solution. And it’s his energetic leadership that’s doing so much with a dedicated group of fellow administrators and teachers, who are bent on bringing new vitality and new capacity to this school. They have a mission – they are devoted to that mission – making this school work.
And we’ve heard from students in this school – they feel the excitement too and they’re excited about a curriculum – a better curriculum – that offers everything from architecture to computer repair courses – a curriculum that actually fits today’s reality and engages our young people.
Well, unfortunately, this school, having been designated for much of its recent history by the state of New York as a quote-unquote “focus school” – this school so much of the time was forced to fend for itself as it tried to turn around. And the previous administration had a policy that a school like this was left to fend for itself. That’s why we’re here today, because we reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools.
And we reject the notion of giving up on any of our children, because we cherish each and every one of them.
That belief led me to choose – for the first time in a generation – not only an educator, but an educator who started as a New York City public school teacher and worked her way all the way up to chancellor – and she is doing an amazing job – our chancellor, Carmen Fariña.
There’s something about a leader who started at the grassroots, who started at the first rung of the ladder in a classroom, and then excelled there, excelled as a principal, excelled as a superintendent – something I saw first-hand when I was a member of Community School Board 15. This is a leader who really understands this work, who has a lot to teach about this work, who can lead her troops into battle because she’s done every single thing there is to do in education. And she knows so much about how to turn around schools – and it comes down to believing in them and supporting them, and that’s what today is all about.
Today we’re going to announce a bold new plan for turning around schools that are struggling in this city, for not giving up on them – in fact, giving them what they need to succeed.
But before I get into the details of this plan, let me just offer a couple of personal observations – and I want to first take you back to the starting point. Chirlane and I know when so much began for us – it was one day. It was December 6, 1994 – not a particularly historic day in the history of the world, but for the de Blasio family, a day when everything changed for the better. That was the day we first laid eyes on Chiara.
And I have said to some of you in this room – I wish this was just a story I was embellishing and making up, but it’s entirely true – when we left the hospital, when we left Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, the various nurses and social workers went over their checklist and they were very adamant that we had to have a car-seat to bring Chiara home in – and we did have our car-seat. You know – check, we had that. Strapped her into the car seat, got her home, come in the door of our apartment, we put her down on the couch, we looked at her – now we realized they had not given us a manual for how to be a parent – so Chirlane and I looked at each other and – literally – a moment we didn’t even have to say the words we both were thinking at the same time: What do we do now?
And we had to learn, but what we felt was what parents have felt throughout time – we felt that love, that absolute and total commitment to our child. We didn’t know what the next steps were – we just knew we had to find our way. We had to be there for our daughter. She was the center of our life.
We felt love, we felt hope, we felt pride, we felt panic – I assure you – but we knew we’d find our way through together. At that moment, when you realize you’re responsible for someone else’s life, everything changes. Your focus changes, your understanding of the world changes. There’s now someone whose future you care about even more than your own. It affects the way you see the world profoundly.
If I had to trace my deep, deep belief and interest and concern for public education to the day it became truly personal – it became a mission – it was December 6, 1994.
I’m proud to say that since that day, I’ve tried to do all I can for the children of this city. And today we’re going to announce even more steps to give them the support they deserve – because everybody in this room who’s ever had that experience of looking at that child for the first time knows – that’s the day when total commitment – total commitment – pervades you. It’s the kind of total commitment we need towards every child in this city – no matter what neighborhood, no matter what the situation of their school today – that total commitment to each child will make the difference for this city.
So as Chirlane said to you, we sent Chiara and then later Dante to public schools proudly –
Chirlane and I were both products of public schools. We believed it’s the right thing to do to have our kids go every step of the way – and this coming June, that journey will end and it’s going to be a sad day – you will see some tears running down my face. Dante does not think it’s a sad day – Dante is one foot into the future already.
But I know what I’m going to be like that day. But once we became public school parents, we got involved. I served on the school board. Chirlane and I went to PTA meetings and we went to parent-teacher conferences, we went to plays – we went to everything we could – like so many hundreds of thousands of parents in this city. Despite all the challenges of their lives, despite – in a lot of cases – not one job, but two jobs, maybe more, they find a way to keep supporting their kids, to keep being there.
And in the process, I learned so much about our schools, our principals, our teachers, our crossing guards, our custodians – everyone who makes up the school community, everyone who supports our children.
And I stand before you as the first mayor in the history of New York City to serve while having a child in public school.
So I say this to my fellow public school parents, for everyone who’s complained that their was going to be closed wrongly, or for everyone who’s felt a co-location decision was made without them, for everyone who thought high-stakes testing was being overused and was setting us back, any parent who had any of those feelings and wished there was a mayor who understood what parents actually feel, I have a simple message today – now is our time.
Chirlane and I worried. We worried about our children. We cared so deeply – we worried about the path they were on. Were we doing everything right? Were we supporting them every way we should? Were we making the right choices about their education so they could thrive in adulthood?
We know that feeling – that first day of school feeling. It’s a hopeful day, but it’s a day that’s tough on parents too, that day when you walk a small child to school for the first time, you let go of that tiny hand, and you hope and you pray that you’ve made the right decisions, that it’s all going to work out. You know, anyone who’s been through that knows that that begins a journey unto itself – to be a part of your child’s education, to be a part of a school community, and knowing it will frame the entire future of your family [inaudible] happens in that school building.
That’s how parents think about it. They know how high the stakes are. They know what really matters. What happens in that building will determine their child’s future, the future of their entire family – that’s how important it is.
We get it. We lived it. We understand it. And so I say, from our family to your family, we want for your children what we had – great schools that gave them a great start in life – every New York child deserves that.
Now, as public school parents, Chirlane and I came to know very personally what it meant when parents were involved in their school, when they were involved in their child’s education very directly, very energetically, very purposefully; when the school supported parents in every way to have the biggest impact they could on their child’s education. And we knew the future of public schools in this town would only work if there was a firm commitment to making parents our partners in the process of educating our children.
And that’s for every kind of school.
I want to say this at the outset – New York City has many kinds of schools, including, of course, charter schools and religious schools, and all of them play an important role in educating our children. And we want to support all of them – we want to support all the children who go to these schools – but today I want to focus on our district schools. Today I want to focus on the schools that educate the vast majority of our children, that schools that will determine the future of New York City. Our district schools are the core of how we educate our children in this city. And getting it right with our district schools literally will determine our future.
Before I talk about some of the specifics of our plan, let me talk about how some schools have been treated over the years, because we have to be honest about this to be able to find our way forward – we have to be honest about the past.
Over the sweep of many decades, as a city, as a society, we’ve left a lot of children behind. Year after year – let’s be blunt – we all knew it, we all saw it – we divided – mentally – we divided schools into quote-unquote “good schools” and quote-unquote “bad schools.” People talked about it like that, people felt that was the reality.
And implicitly, as a city, we wrote off the bad schools. That’s what happened. They were left in the situation where they couldn’t succeed. And many of you know first-hand from painful experience what a school looks like when it’s been written off. These schools were resource-poor. Teachers were hamstrung. The best teachers generally didn’t want to work in these schools. Parents were shut out of the process. And these schools – the people who worked in them – the principals, the teachers, the parents – they felt put down – and in fact they were put down. They were put down by a number of circumstances. Sometimes they were even put down by leaders in this town. Sometimes they heard the voice of mayors saying there was something wrong with them – sometimes even schools chancellors. And it didn’t help them move forward to hear those negatives time and time again.
We know something about life – we know what language means, we know a can-do attitude leads to success, we know a can’t-do attitude ensures failure. For so many schools that were struggling already, that can’t-do attitude stood in their way. And we weren’t just writing of a building. As a city, we were writing off the kids who went to that school.
What happened implicitly – and again, not only just over years, over decades – we divided our children into those we believed could succeed and those we were convinced would fail. We decided some of them had the right to dream great dreams and others would have the bright hopes of youth extinguished right at the beginning.
My administration fundamentally rejects these cruel divisions. We don’t accept that idea.
And we don’t only reject those divisions because they are morally wrong. We reject them because the underlying assumptions are just plain wrong as well.
No neighborhood, no school has a monopoly on brains and talent. The man who discovered the vaccine for polio – Jonas Salk – was born to a poor immigrant family right here in East Harlem. He could’ve been written off, but he had a chance and he changed the world. The first Latina on the Supreme Court, the brilliant Sonya Sotomayor –
– grew up in public housing in humble circumstances in the Bronx’s Soundview neighborhood. She could’ve been given up on, but she had a chance – and look how far she went for all of us. The person who helps save the world from global warming could be enrolled in a pre-k in East New York right now.
And we need to make sure she gets the education she deserves.
We need to reform this school system so every neighborhood has high quality schools, every school is one that parents would want to send their children to – not tolerate – would want to send their children to, and every child receives the education he or she needs to succeed in life.
In other words, we need a school system literally equally committed to the success of each and every child – to the success of all. And – if you know something about this administration, you know one thing we feel on education and a lot of other areas – we cannot wait. The time to act is now.
I have talked a lot about the Tale of Two Cities. The story I’ve just told you sadly fits squarely in that history, in that narrative. We’ve said the mission – the mission we came here to achieve – is to create “One City, Rising Together” – and to get there, we have to create one school system, rising together.
At Riverside Church in the spring, I made a commitment to shake the foundations of this school system, because in education you have to get to the heart of the matter if you’re going to make change. And nothing is more foundational than early childhood learning. We believed every child in this city should receive pre-k as a matter of right. They had a right to a good education – and that was impossible without quality pre-k. In our first ten months, we secured the funding and put the plan in place.
And I want to thank so many people in this room who gave so much of themselves, who traveled to Albany a number of times, because they knew this would be a game-changer for our children. And we succeeded – as a result of the efforts of so many people here and so many parents, so many citizens all over this city, every four-year-old in New York City will get full-day, high-quality pre-k, guaranteed.
And that initiative got a lot of attention, but at the same time, so many other important building blocks were being put in place – and they are having an equally profound impact on changing this school system.
First of all, we made an historic investment in extending the school day, nearly doubling the number of middle school students in extended-day programs – and these programs reach our young people at the time they need the help.
I like to say – I think a lot of people in this room can relate to this phrase – Chirlane and I are recovering middle school parents.
It is a tough time, it’s a decisive time. Kids can get pulled in the wrong direction at that age, but if they’re in the school building or if they’re in a community setting getting that extended learning – three more hours a day – they’re safe and secure and they’re growing and they’re on the right path. We owe that to them.
Because of our actions, over 40,000 middle school students who would’ve been hanging out on the streets or home alone now are in quality extended learning programs.
They’re getting high-quality academic enrichment. They’re getting tutoring. They’re getting homework help. They’re getting excited about themselves and their futures – and that’s opening doors to even more learning up ahead.
Now the extended-day programs – like the “Pre-k For All” initiative – they give students educational opportunity and they also give them social support at a key point in their development. They put them in the position to succeed – we actually are giving them the foundation to succeed – we’re not holding it back from them and then wondering why they fail – we’re giving them the foundation to succeed!
But we’ve done more in these ten months. We’ve dramatically increased the role of our parents in our schools. And there is a basic principal that every parent understands – los padres son los primeros y mejores maestros de nuestros niños.
[Applause; Si Se Puede!]
Parents are our children’s first and best teachers. Las escuelas funcionan mejor cuando los padres se sienten bienvenidos, cuando estan involucrados, y cuando pueden participar en la educiación de sus hijos.
Schools work best when parents feel welcome, when they’re involved, and when they participate in their children’s education – regardless of what language they speak at home.
Our new teachers’ contract builds in more time for teachers to reach out to parents – 40 additional minutes each and every Tuesday for face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails – and the extra time makes an enormous difference. I’ll give you an example – PS 149 in Jackson Heights.
[One person claps]
You can clap for Jackson Heights. [Laughs]
Parents used to have to wait until November each year to meet their children’s teachers if they had the chance to meet them at all. And because teachers did not have to stay as late under the old contract, meetings had to occur during the school day when many many parents simply couldn’t get there. Let’s look at the change that’s happened this year.
This year, thanks to the new contract, PS 149 held a family night. Check out this response – 700 parents and caregivers attended that family night.
Look what happens when you open the door, when you tell people that they matter, that we need them. Look at that response – one school, one neighborhood – already. How quickly things have changed.
And our belief in parental involvement – it’s not just an article of faith, it’s not just because we think it’s a nice idea. There’s so much research to back it. A Harvard Graduate School of Education study in 2012 found that strong teacher-family communication increased class participation by 15 percent and increased the likelihood that students completed their homework by 40 percent. That is real progress. That’s why we need parents to be part of the solution.
Thirdly, we have greatly expanded teacher professional development. This is something our chancellor believes in so foundationally. Since June – and look again – look at the level of response to what is a brand new initiative – since June, we’ve had more than 13,000 participants in teacher training sessions and other sessions for other professionals in our school – 8,000 of them teachers, 13,000 overall in professional development sessions to make themselves stronger and better. Look at the response when you give people a chance to get stronger, to do a better job – look at the pride, look at the commitment.
Fourth, we have created a new and more innovative kind of school – and you’re going to see hundreds of these schools. They’re known as PROSE schools – it’s something we’re very proud of. These schools will be given more independence to depart from Department of Education rules and union rules alike when the school community thinks it makes sense – to rewrite their own playbook. It will affect everything from teaching methods to hiring decisions. It will allow these schools to adapt their approach to what works for their community – that’s creating tremendous excitement among professionals who strive for excellence and achievement, among parents who feel their voices are being heard. There’s that energy of innovation – and it’s happening every day already as these PROSE schools are starting to take shape. People are involved because they know they can make a change. This is an extraordinary and powerful step forward for New York City public schools.
Now these are the things we’ve done over the last ten months. They’re having a real impact already. They’re having an impact right now on the quality of teaching and on the connection that our students and our families feel to our schools. It’s part of reimagining the way we educate our children. And we’ve put down a foundation now that everything else will build upon. So now it’s time to tell you about what’s coming next.
We’re making a major commitment to a model we believe will improve education citywide. We think this is the shape of things to come – and we’re going to make it a centerpiece of our major new initiative to turn around struggling schools. The model I’m referring to is community schools.
Powerful name – and I’m going to describe to you just how much impact it can have. You’ve heard before from this administration as we’ve launched ourselves on the path to a fuller commitment to community schools. You’re going to hear today the particular impact that they can have on schools that are challenged. We’re going to be using the community school model in a much bigger way because it embodies our values, because it’s an entirely different approach that succeeds because everyone has a stake, everyone is called to the mission together to help our children – and the difference will be seen in our children’s ability to succeed and achieve.
So what are community schools? Well, they’re schools that have been spoken about in terms of a very simple philosophy: “Whole child, whole school, whole community.”
“Whole child” means that we focus on all of a child’s needs – not just the academic needs, which are crucial, but all of their needs. That means we address a child’s mental health, physical health, social and emotional well-being – we look at the whole child, we figure out what will help that child to grow and succeed.
And these schools are ready to address a range of problems, including some problems that occur at home and come with the child to the classroom. And as our chancellor says so powerfully, if a child is hungry, she cannot focus in school. It’s why a community school might have a food panty for students’ families who need more so their child will be well nourished each day. A parent who doesn’t understand English can’t help a child with their homework. That’s why community schools might offer English language courses for parents as well – to really build that bond.
Children of all types, of every background, every neighborhood, come to school and some of them have mental health challenges, and so many times they’re not found in time or they’re ignored or they’re misunderstood. But community schools have ways to identify a child’s needs and address them early when the greatest impact can be had.
The second part of the community school philosophy is “whole school.” This is the idea that principals, teachers, parents – everyone who works in the building – should work as close partners to address the needs of all kids – from the valedictorian of the class to the child who’s struggling the most – that everyone is in it together.
In the past, parents were often only invited to school when there was a problem. The only time you got that call was when something was wrong. They weren’t treated as stakeholders who were part of the solution. Community schools see parents as collaborators every step of the way.
As I said, Chirlane and I have always seen Chiara and Dante’s schools not just as a building, but as almost a second home, an extension of our family, because what was happening there was so important to us, so personal, and we had such a sense of connection to the people at that school – it felt like an extended family. The community school model gets that and believes that parents should not only be included, they should feel at home in the school – they should feel that they are part of it.
The third principal – “whole community” – it means that community schools have strong connections to their neighborhoods. And look – over the years, some schools fell into the trap of shutting themselves out from the neighborhood around them, acting like self-declared islands. Community schools are neighborhood hubs with activities that bring everyone in –
– making it a centerpiece of the community, having events and programs on nights and weekends so everyone in the community can feel a part of that one place that determines our future – our neighborhood school.
So, thinking about community schools in terms of those three principals I think helps lay out the vision, but there’s another way I find very helpful. Community schools actually address the way we live today – the way we live now, how life is, how it’s lived by everyday New Yorkers.
Community schools think about things differently because – let’s face it – the traditional education model was created for a very different time and place. We do run – as my wife likes to remind us – on an agricultural calendar in our schools. I have not met a lot of farmers in my travels around New York City.
We had schools – and the whole idea of the school day and the approach – created when most families had only one income, when the notion of a two-income family was a rarity – when most women did not work outside the home and when graduating high school was for so many young people all they needed to get a job in a factory or in what was abundant labor for folks with fewer skills.
That’s a model literally created in the 1800s. We can’t use a 19th-century model to address 21st-century problems.
So community schools update the whole approach. They think about people’s lives, their schedules, their realities, and how to bring everyone to the table for a common goal and they prepare students for today’s jobs because they recognize kids need a lot more support, a lot more preparation for an economy that demands more. So this is a model that speaks to how we live today.
Now what would you see if you went to a community school and you took a look around, what would you see? Well, you’d see the same as in any model a school – a principal, teachers, classrooms – but you’d see some other folks as well. You might see doctors, you might see nurses, you might see psychologists – all of them there to address the whole range of our children’s needs, helping them identify challenges, and working on them at the core.
Some of these challenges are very small, but very critical. Like a young boy who is having trouble seeing the boards and no one knows it, and all he needs is eyeglasses to succeed in school. But if we don’t catch that problem, it will magnify many times over through that child’s life. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a child a pair of eyeglasses. That will help change their future.
And sometimes the problems are bigger and more complex. A great example of addressing the bigger challenges, you can find at PS 78, the Stapleton Lighthouse Community School in Staten Island. That school makes mental health a priority. It has a behavior intervention team with guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers, as well as staff from two nearby mental health clinics. And it identifies challenges that kids have that we know are common, like ADHD or depression, and it helps get kids support early so they don’t have to suffer. So they don’t have to feel there’s something wrong with them. It respects these children and these families by saying we see the problem and we can help you with the problem and we’re going to work together to solve the problem. That’s what community schools do.
So now I’m going to continue our tour of a community school. I know you can see it in your mind.
What else will you see? You will see parents. You will see a lot of parents. Community schools involve parents and help them understand the stake they can, and should have, in their child’s education. Now, getting parents involved – again, it’s not just an idea, it’s not just something that sounds nice – it has very tangible impacts.
I told you about the study that Harvard did, but think about it. Think about what it leads to when a parent’s truly involved, when they’re on the same page with the teacher, when they’re working as a team. It means homework will get done. It means there’ll be more reading at home. It means that there’s a problem – the child will hear the same voice on what they have to do to address the problem, whether in the classroom or at the kitchen table – one voice telling them what has to be done. Imagine the power of that unity and that partnership. Imagine how practically that can change so many children’s lives.
Community schools also will have evidence of one other thing as you look around. As you go on your tour with me, you’re going to see something else and something necessary – more resources. Community schools –
Community schools understand that a lot of people in this city care particularly deeply about our children and about our schools. It’s something that I’ve found across every part of the city. One of the things that draws out the greatest generosity and commitment from New Yorkers is our children. So many people want to help. The community school model engages everyone who wants to help and helps draw in all of the community’s resources to help our children. Think about it. Everyone who wants to be part of the solution being given that opportunity, because they know, in that school building, the future is being written.
So, community schools think creatively about how to get everything they need from their neighbors. One newly designated community school, on the Lower East Side, got Lowe’s to donate a washer and dryer for parents to use. The washer and dryer –
Talk about the basics here. The washer and dryer helps ensure that even the poorest parents can send their kids to school in clean clothes they’re proud of. And that says so much to both the parents and the children.
And in the process, the parents get a little more comfortable with coming to the school and participating and supporting their child’s education.
Look at all the other sources of support and generosity. At that same school, NYU School of Dentistry comes every week to do check-ups and cleanings for the kids right there in the school. And the Creative Artists Agency – the big talent agency, so classic as a New York business – gives children who are living in temporary housing – and that’s, sadly, a lot of our children – it gives them backpacks and Thanksgiving dinners for families and holiday presents so they can feel good about themselves. So they can enjoy what so many other children enjoy.
Think about all these partners coming together. A lot of community schools work with local businesses, with civic groups, with museums. They create much more than you could ever have in a traditional school.
You know, think about the idea – everyone contributes, each in their own way, to bring up everyone’s children. Reminds me of a former employer of mine who used a phrase she liked a lot, and I think the phrase was, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Community schools understand that, even in an ever more modern, complex world, that notion of the village. That core notion of the role that the neighborhood can play – it’s actually more powerful than ever. It’s more needed than ever, and community schools tap into that.
Now, I’ve told you what a big part of our reform community schools will be and they will, in time, be felt all over a scene and felt all over this city. But we’re going to in particular, use community schools as a tool for helping the schools that need help the most. And I told you at the beginning, I wanted to tell you about our plan to turn around struggling schools. Again, community schools will be a part of it, for sure, but there’s going to be a lot of other components as well.
Today, I’m announcing a $150 million initiative – $150 million initiative. Now, it has a formal name. The official name is “The School Renewal Program”. But I have a name that I use for it because I want to be blunt about what our mission is. My name is simpler – it’s “No Bad Schools” – that we will no longer tolerate bad schools.
Because this is what it’s all about for all of us – ensuring that every child goes to a school that works. Now, bad school – as I indicated earlier – it’s not a formal educational term. But again, it’s a reality so many people feel in this city. So many parents, so many kids use that phrase – and that’s been going on for decades. So I’m going to use the exact same phrase to emphasize the change we must make to get us to the day where no one wants to use that word again because they see progress in each and every school.
You know, these schools that I’ve talked about – having struggled for so long – they knew what they were up against. And even in those struggles, a lot of good people tried their best. A lot of good principals and teachers, a lot of truly devoted parents and school staff – they kept fighting even when they felt the odds were against them. But they shouldn’t have had to feel the odds were so much against them. They shouldn’t have had to feel so alone.
Today, we change that. We identify 94 struggling schools around this city and we’re going to lay out the kind of support they deserve, and which will be guaranteed to them.
These are the schools that are most in need of help and which we will rush help too right away. And the kind of schools that were written off in the past – and they were written off in two ways, and I think it’s important to explain this before I go on to the details of the program. These schools were written off, first with neglect. In so many cases, the schools were committing education malpractice and the intervention didn’t come. But in other cases, there was a different kind of reaction that, sadly, magnified the problem. A lot of schools were simply and abruptly shut down based on a single standardized test – and that was wrong.
And then there was not an effort to save them and turn them around that really could have made a difference. So the closing of the school added insult to injury, because after years of neglect not even being given a chance to succeed – a school that the community of course was attached to, because every neighborhood is attached to its schools. Every neighborhood wants to see the school succeed. Every parent tries in every way they know to make the school succeed. But, after years and years of neglect, suddenly there’s a termination notice. It wasn’t the parents who failed, it wasn’t the teachers who failed, it was the city government that failed – it failed all of them.
Because if you don’t give a school the resources it needs, if you don’t give it the staffing it needs, if you don’t give it the innovations it needs, why would you be surprised if year after year it falls behind?
And then then schools were phased out – they had fewer resources, still, as they were being phased out – fewer services, fewer supports, particularly for kids with special needs. And then, those kids were victimized anew by being treated as second-class citizens in the middle of a phase-out. So we gave up on even more kids, adding another layer of tragedy to this story.
So we’re going to do something different. We’re going to do something that, bluntly, has rarely been tried. We’re going to give these schools the tools they need to succeed – plain and simple.
Some of this is already in place, and a lot of it has not been done before either. “Pre-k For All” has never been done before, extended learning programs for our middle-school kids, on this scale – never done before. The extra professional development time in the contract – that’s new – that’s never been done on this scale. A lot of the supports are already in motion – are already being felt – but we have to do a lot more and this new set of initiatives is designed to turn every one of these 94 renewal schools into successful schools. Let me tell you about the details.
First, we’re going to transform each and every one of the 94 renewal schools into community schools as well. They will have the community school model to support them.
That step alone will fundamentally change the way these schools operate and will change the life of the school community profoundly. That will start immediately.
Second, we will provide something that both parents and educators agree is critical – more time in the school day for the schools that need it the most.
Every student in a renewal school will get an extra hour of instructional time every school day.
Now, let me be blunt – I know that will make a lot of students unhappy.
But there’s no way – no better way to get students on the right track – to help them overcome the challenges – than putting them in the classroom with a capable teacher, longer, each day. This is the difference maker and, in these 94 schools, it will become the reality.
And, these schools these schools will also be getting extra afterschool seats, so children in these schools can extend those learning days even further with after school programs. Wherever you turn in a renewal school, there will be more and more opportunity for children to learn. In the past, there was less and less every year. Now, there will be more and more opportunity for these children to learn.
Third, renewal schools will get even more professional training opportunities for the teachers. Teachers at the front line deserve even more support to become better professionals.
And finally, we’re going to offer high-quality, academically focused summer programs at all of the renewal schools.
We’re not going to have a situation where kids lose some of their momentum over the summer. For kids who need it, they’re going to be able to go straight through the summer and benefit from that continuity and get stronger with each passing month.
That’s a program for profound change in these 94 schools.
Now, it takes money – it takes resources. I can’t think of a better investment. These 94 renewal schools will get an additional $150 million – and that’s a lot of money, but it’s just the beginning. The total cost of turning around all of our schools will cost more. There’s no doubt about it.
And we will need Albany to step up and be part of the solution and we’ll need your help to make sure it happens.
One more building block to the renewal schools approach that I want to outline, and it could be said this could be the most important piece – accountability.
And I want to be clear about how we look at these renewal schools – what our vision is. Our vision is a vision of success. Our plan is for success. We believe they will turn around, and we’re going to dedicate the resources and we’re going to give them the focus they deserve.
But we’re going to also hold these schools and the educational professionals in these schools responsible. We’re going to be holding them responsible for getting us where we need to go. We’ll give them the support, we’ll give them the tools, we’ll give them the resources – they have to succeed. And, if in some cases – and I think those cases will be rare – a school doesn’t succeed, we’ll use our power under the teachers’ contract, and other means to keep professionals accountable. We’ll apply the vision of extra help, of extra support, and full accountability to each and every one of the 94 schools. And there’s going to be three ways of doing it.
[School bell rings]
Do we get to go to recess?
Recess is coming. The speech is almost done.
I think Principal Sullivan is like sending a message.
We’ll keep going – three measures of accountability – first for our teachers. And again, as a public school parent, I have spent now the better part of two decades working closely with public school teachers. I have immense respect for our teachers and the work they do and I understand how tough it is. The vast majority of our teachers, are not only highly capable, they’re highly committed to the work. And they’ve been clamoring for more support, and we’re going to give them that support in these 94 schools. They won’t have to clamor any more – it will be there for them. With pleasure, we will provide the support they deserve.
We also know, there are some teachers who aren’t delivering for our kids. Now, some of these teachers just need a helping hand, some of them need more support, some of them need more professional development, and these resources will give them that chance. They’re going to have a chance for more training. They’re going to have a chance to work with mentors – with high performing teachers who know how to get the job done and can help the next generation to achieve.
And there’s going to be some teachers, sadly, who don’t belong in the profession. In that case, we’re going to document their challenges and we’ll respect their due process rights, for sure. But we’ll make changes in the faculty of a school that isn’t improving, despite a huge amount of investment. We’ll invest, but we’ll hold teachers accountable as well.
And I told you, I’ve known a lot of teachers. Hundreds and hundreds of teachers over many years I’ve talked to about their work and how much they care about it. And I believe the clear majority of teachers believe in the accountability because they’re professionals who respect their profession. They want everyone to succeed in their profession and they know accountability is part of that.
Now, the second piece is our principals. As Chancellor Fariña will tell you – and she knows from first-hand experience as a teacher, a principal, a superintendent – nothing helps a school turn around more than a great principal.
I saw it when I was a school board member. I saw the transformative effect a great leader can have – we’re seeing it right here with John Sullivan. We’re seeing what one man can do to bring everyone together in a common vision.
But some principals need to do better and we’ll support them as well. We’re going to get experts from both inside and outside the school system to come in and support principals who need a helping hand, who need new ideas, who need to be shown approaches that might work better, who need some coaching.
We’re increasing the role of our superintendents – veteran educators who will help to supervise and support principals, particularly in our renewal schools. And we’ve brought in a new team of superintendents and they’re the kind of leaders who can provide real guidance, real coaching to principals who might need that helping hand.
But again, if these efforts don’t work, we will use the authority the law gives us to remove a principal who can’t turn the school around – same thing I said about teachers. I know a lot of principals. I have immense respect for the principals of this city. I think it is, literally one of the toughest jobs there is in New York City and they too – the clear majority of principals I have talked to – believe in accountability because they are leaders and professionals who want to see each and every one of their colleagues succeed, and they believe accountability is something that leaders embrace and don’t run from.
Third, and finally, let’s talk about the schools themselves and the accountability that we will employ with the schools. We’re going to give every renewal school every chance to succeed, every chance to get better and stronger. They will have obvious and guaranteed and unprecedented support in that process. We will literally move Heaven and earth to help them succeed.
But, we won’t wait forever. If we do not see improvement after three years, and after all of these reforms and new resources, we’ll be ready to close any schools that don’t measure up. It’s as simple as that.
We will not close them casually as was done so often in the past. We will only close them as a last resort. We are planning for success, but in the few cases where we may not see it, we have to have this measure of accountability. It’s crucial to hold schools accountable because even the greatest reform plan in the world makes little difference if there’s no consequence for failure. So we’re holding up the consequence.
But we’re holding it up in a spirit of shared mission – in a belief that we will succeed. That everyone will do their best and will help each other and we’ll finally have the resources and the support and the belief from the leadership of this city that they can succeed. And actually being told that you can and will succeed makes a big difference in life. So to all the people in these 94 renewal schools – to the principals, to the teachers, to the school’s staff, to the parents, I’ll say it simply. I believe you can succeed, I believe you will succeed. We will be with you every step of the way.
These are the blueprints for reform. This is how we shake the foundations of New York City education. Our renewal school initiative begins now, immediately. We’ve already begun taking the critical first steps.
One – the chancellor is evaluating principals and other leaders of renewal schools to make sure our school leadership begins improving immediately.
Two – we’ll begin mentoring principals and increasing professional development for teachers without delay to improve instruction right now.
Three – we are starting right now to recruit more guidance counselors and other staff –
To be added to these struggling schools this spring – this spring.
And just as a parent, can I take a moment to say there’s not enough credit given to our guidance counselors. I thank them for the work they do for our school system.
So many times along the way, as a parent, I wanted the guidance counselor to tell me what to do.
Fourth – we’re going to act quickly to create and to strengthen Parent Teacher Associations and School Leadership Teams.
I’m saying it that way because we know that these entities give so much important involvement to parents in the decisions of their school. They create so much momentum and accountability, but not all schools have one that’s functioning. Think about it – 2014, in the biggest and most sophisticated city in the United States of America, and not every school has a functioning PTA, not every school has a functioning SLT. That has to be changed right now.
We will ensure that these vital parent organizations exist in every renewal school by January 15, 2015.
In the second year of our efforts, more changes will be visible in all 94 renewal schools.
One – with a new school year in September, we’ll begin adding highly experienced, master teachers to work with the existing faculty.
Two – we will place additional mental health professionals, guidance counselors, and other professionals in all renewal schools.
Three – we will have in place, pending the approval of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators – that means you Ernie.
We will have in place innovative ambassador teams. These are expert teams that will come in from outside – they’ll include a highly skilled principal, assistant principals and teachers – to lead the school and asses the school needs. And they will act quickly and decisively to bring about necessary changes. These will be some of the best and the brightest that could help us turn around some of the schools that need it the most.
And throughout it, we’re going to demand progress – fast, intense progress. Because we know with these supports it can be done.
My impatience for change comes from a very personal place. I feel the urgency so many parents feel. I don’t want the status quo to continue. We have to do something different. So, I’m impatient for change.
And it comes from the experiences that Chirlane and I had over all those years as a parent. It comes from what we saw and felt with our own children and all the conversations we had with so many parents trying to get it right. These reforms literally come from those hundreds and thousands of moments we spent as parents realizing what each and every one of us deserves. We spent much of our adult lives – as a father and mother – as public school parents. It’s been so much of our identity – it’s been so much of what we think about each and every day. And it’s what so many public school parents know. They know the kinds of changes we need. They deserve to see them take life.
And parents feel that profound sense of responsibility. They want all of us in public service to just be as good as them, in that sense. They want everyone to feel responsible. Parents have a total commitment to our children. A parent doesn’t just hope that their child’s life will turn out well – they strive, they struggle, they work at it. It’s the most important thing in their world – to get that right.
And I have to tell you, history teaches us – to help their children move forward, parents will do everything in their ability. Things they thought weren’t even possible. They’ll cross oceans to a new country if that’s what it takes.
They’ll put their own wishes and dreams aside. They’ll save up money, not for themselves, but for the next generation. They’ll even risk their own lives just to get their child something better. That’s what parents are all about.
It is literally total commitment. It’s what Chirlane and I felt that first moment we laid eyes on Chiara – total, unconditional commitment. We felt it again the first day we saw Dante. We feel it each and every day since.
And it’s something that every parent in this room understands implicitly. You believe in your children. You give them that sure faith. You fight for them with undying tenacity.
You want to see that same attitude, that same approach, that same energy every day in our school system, and you deserve to see it every day in our school system.
You will see a parent’s faith in every child played out in each school in need. You will see a parent’s commitment not to give up.
And that is my promise to you today. That we believe in every child in New York City public schools and we will not give up on a single one of them.