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Transcript: Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Fariña Announce Continuing Gains for NYC Students on State Exams

August 22, 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Well, first I have to say Tamika thank you so much for sharing this wonderful good news of what’s going on at PS 21, Mr. C., congratulations, I’m just going to call you Mr. C., also. Congratulations, and to everyone at the PS 21 family, that’s just a beautiful story of a school on the move and getting better all the time. And Tameika I want to say you gave everyone credit but yourself, I think involved, active parents make a big difference so let’s thank Tamika –


But what you said that I particularly loved, and this is what we aspire to for the whole school system, you said that your kid wants to go to school every day, looks forward to going to school every day. That’s an amazing thing. That’s what we aspire to, that love of learning, that engagement. And that certainly speaks volumes in terms of what we’re here to talk about. So Tamika, thank you for a beautiful, beautiful story of what’s happening in your family and your school.

This is a good news day because so many educators in this city working more closely than ever with parents have found ways to reach our young people more effectively and prepare them better. And it’s showing up in some many ways now. We’re here to talk about one of the ways we measure what’s happening with our young people which are the test scores that the State reports on each year. And we always say, there are many, many ways that our necessary to evaluate the progress of our young people. Test scores are one piece of the equations. And test scores do tell you something very important. And the good news for all New Yorkers today is that for the fourth year in a row, our test scores have gone up in our public schools in both math and English. Four years in a row. This is great –

– Great credit due to our educators who work so hard, and to engaged families who are the allies and the partners of the educators in that process. So we’re here to celebrate because we’ve said from the very beginning with our equity and excellence vision the goal is to reach every child, the goal is to create a standard of excellence, the goal is to break down some of the barriers and disparities of the past so every child in every zip code gets equal opportunity. Look, PS 21 what a great example. You listened to Tamika’s story, you know, I would love to see any school anywhere that has all these wonderful attributes. There are schools in wealthy suburbs that would love to have a college program and a career and college center even at the elementary school level. That’s making me very proud of our public schools. And we’re starting to develop things in everyday public schools that are the envy of educators all over the city, all over the state. That’s what we want to do, to create that kind of excellence throughout.

This is a day to celebrate, and I want to give appreciation to some of the folks who will not be speaking. First I want to acknowledge their hard work in bringing us to this day. Particular thanks to First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris who has worked so closely with Department of Education for years to help us build this progress. I want to thank the DOE Senior Director for Research and Policy, Michelle Paladino. I want to thank the Vice President for Elementary Schools at the UFT, Karen Alford. And we have a number of principals here today, I want to thank and congratulate the principals who are here. And I want to note they come from traditional public schools and they come from charter schools as well. And they all deserve great credit for the progress that they are making. And of course, to the parents who are here. Thank you because as a public school parent myself until just a short while ago, I know that the first educators in every child’s life are our parents. So let’s give a round of applause to the parents –


Now, let me give you the facts because they are remarkable. So, four straight years of improved test scores for the kids of New York City public schools.

In the area of English, this is extraordinary, over the last four years – so going back to the last full school year of the previous administration to the school year that just ended in June this year – in the last four years, our kids have become 54 percent more proficient in English.

In four years – a 54 percent increase in our English test scores. Isn’t that remarkable?


And math was not, for all us, the best subject but none the less, our kids are doing great on math – 27 percent increase over four years in our math scores as well. Congratulations to all.


So, those numbers are extraordinary – four years in a row of increases. That’s extraordinary. But let’s look inside these numbers a little. The gains are consistent across every borough and among kids of every background. So we saw increases across the board.

We saw increases in all 32 school districts in English and – this is really important – all 32 school districts, every single one of them improved in English. But here’s the other thing about the English tests, for the second year in a row, New York City outperformed the rest of the State of New York on the English test. Isn’t that amazing?


And I think, bluntly, not so many years ago that would have been an impossible statement to make, to even imagine New York City public schools outperforming the rest of the state including a lot of schools in jurisdictions that are very well-resourced and suburban areas. When you add the whole rest of the state together, we outpace them, and we want to continue that great progress.

And look, our Renewal Schools which we put a huge effort into addressing, they also did better in these tests. They, in fact, outpaced the citywide average on these tests and showed consistent improvement.

So, a lot here that convinces us – every time we see progress it convinces us more progress is possible. And this is one of the things I’m so proud of and I congratulate everyone on.

You know, there was a long time where there was an assumption our schools really couldn’t move forward much but when you see progress four years in a row it convinces you we’re just at the beginning of an ascent. We’re going to go a lot farther with our public schools.

The Equity and Excellence vision is the right vision. It’s what we need to aspire to. I always say – what kids need in today’s day and age is a lot more than what my generation needed when we went to school. Kids need a stronger education. They need more early-childhood education in particular.

We all got there with pre-K. We’ve made that universal. Now, starting in September, we’re going to start down the road to 3-K and I look forward to the day when that is universal in the city. Every three-year-old getting a high-quality, early-childhood education for free.

I think the parents of this city are ready for that.


All of our middle schools getting after school for free and getting that opportunity to continue to learn in those hours after school. All of our kids getting Advanced Placement courses available to them in high school. That will soon be universal throughout our school system. This is all adding up.

So, to summarize, we’ve got four years in a row of improved test scores. We have the highest graduation rate we’ve had, the lowest dropout rate we’ve ever had. We have more students than ever taking AP exams and more students than ever passing the AP exams. This is all an example of a school system moving forward.

1.1 million children moving forward together. And it is really something that everyone here should be proud of because it took a lot of work. I know all the educators in the room understand it is a day-to-day hour-to-hour effort to reach our children and help them to be the best they can be.

But guess what guys, it’s working. So, congratulations to everyone because it’s working.


A few words in Spanish before I turn to the Chancellor –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]


With that you know I’ve given a lot of credit rightfully to our teachers and educators and principals. I’ve given a lot of credit rightfully to our parents. But the captain of this ship deserves a lot credit too. Four straight years of progress under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, let’s give her a big round of applause.


Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña: Thank you and I want to add that across the city we have also seen gains for all of our English language learners and all of our special needs kids. This is very, very important because when all of us rise. The system rises as a whole. But I’d like to also emphasize that leadership does matter. And I’d like to say who’s standing behind me. So as I say something nice about you, could you please stand up? Serapha Cruz – okay this is the principal of the Bronx School of Young Leaders where the emphasis is on building confidence and [inaudible].

Mayor: You have to stand during the whole presentation.

Chancellor Fariña: No, no. Just when I talk about you, okay.  And what happens in this school is that the students have ownership of some of their own work. And to me real learning takes place when students understand why they’re in school, and what they have to do to actually get better. So, thank you.


Sheila Durant, Sheila I won’t say how many years you’ve been there. But Sheila Durant has many expertise, but one of them in particular is how to work with parents. This is the school we use for showcase sometimes. She has dinner with parents at night; the teachers come in to work on homework with parents. And this is a school that has consistently done outstanding work. So Sheila, thank you for your leadership.


Maria Vera Drucker, now Maria I don’t want to embarrass you, but I do embarrass you citywide all the time. This is a school predominantly of English language learner’s right in the heart of Bushwick with the best – and I’ve said this many times right? STEM program where first graders are learning how to code, where second graders say to me Chancellor you may be too old to learn this when I go visit their schools. But also, understanding that I am sending people through all parts of the city to visit your school to see, because you’re also a shell case school. So, thank you for that.


Johana Andujar and also Marsha Gadsden, co-principles of Brooklyn Ascend Charter School. One of the charter schools I actually – I went to work with one of your high schools, and we did my art lesson there. But this is also a charter school on the move in the sense of getting students more involved in their own learning and we’re proud to work with them through our Melisa Harris and her office, correct? So, we thank you for being here.


Helen Ponella from IS 2-2-7 – Now, for those of you who think leadership is easy, try being a leader of a middle school. You know how much I love that Helen. And this is a middle school that really understands that student’s voice does count. And that seventh graders are unique and special and that we get seventh grade right. High school is a piece of cake, right Helen?

Helen Ponella: Yes.

Chancellor Fariña: Thank you.

Mayor: Well done.


Chancellor Fariña: Derrick Dunlap, Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School. And I want to make a very clear point here. Derrick has only been principal for two years, right? And the school was not successful till Derrick got there. It’s important that kids be with the right teachers. But right leadership makes schools successful. So we thank you Derrick.

Mayor: Well done.


Chancellor Fariña: And obviously Anthony Cosentino, Mr. C –

Mayor: Mr. C.

Chancellor Fariña: From PS 21. And I would say one of the most important features is happening in almost all of the schools out in Staten Island. The collaboration, the three universities in Staten Island are working with all of the high schools of Staten Island and the all high schools are working with the middle schools, and the middle schools are working with the elementary school. No one school stands alone and these collaborations have made a big difference in terms of the work that’s going on out there. So, thank you.


So really I just want to reiterate that this is all good news. To me we’re moving forward, but today is really for us. The first day of how we look at the scores, we’re very excited, we’ve very happy. We know that the things we put in, more professional development for teachers, more professional development for principles, more emphasis on summer work. This is the year I have visited almost 15 to 20 summers in the city sights. The excitement of what’s happening in our schools till that learning takes place all the time in a multitude of ways is really, really important. And I think that the investment we’ve made on the Monday [inaudible] minutes in collaboration with the UNFT has been crucial. The fact that we have emphasized careers and college pathways for everyone I think has made a difference in particularly in our co-located high school sights and they’ll be 15 of them starting in September where AP classes can be taken on any school on that campus to increase student’s opportunities for the higher level work. Certainly Pre-K – three year olds in September, my first day of school I am going to go back and visits three year olds. And I think this is the wave of the future and something that a lot of people across the country are looking at us for. Algebra for all, we’re increasing those programs. This September we start with 14 districts doing literacy coaches and they had three weeks of intensive training this summer to ensure that we do even more. We are excited about the scores, but now we are analyzing them even deeper. And we decided what is it that now has to be done, school by school, district by district. To make sure that we – everyone is in the top percentile. So we’re excited to be here today. But this is the work of parents, it’s the work of teachers, it’s the work of principles, but most importantly it is the work of students. We need to get people excited about coming to school. And we need to make sure that every child has the best teacher possible, and every school has the best principal in their school. So it’s a thrill to be here and I am excited.


Oh, in Spanish, okay I will do Spanish.

Mayor: I think you should do Spanish; this is like a running joke.

Chancellor Fariña: I always forget.

[Chancellor Fariña speaks in Spanish]

Mayor: Muchas Gracias.

Chancellor Fariña: De nada.

Mayor: Now, someone who speaks Spanish substantially better than me. We’ve had a great partnership with the City Council. That has helped us move the equity and excellence initiative, and so I know Danny Dromm feels the importance of this day as a public leader, but also as someone has devoted his life to teaching. You know how much hard work went into this progress. So, it’s my pleasure to introduce the Chair of the Education Committee in the City Council, Danny Dromm.

Mayor: Thank you very much. So everyone we’re going to take questions about this announcement, then I have a brief update on another topic and then we’re going to take questions on general topics. So first questions on this announcement, yes.

Question: Some of the renewals, a little less than half of the renewals for example didn’t improve on math. I know most improved on English but not all. Obviously it’s now been three years of the program. This is when the assessments can happen. I mean, if you see a school that didn’t improve on English or math, I know that may not mean they’re automatically marked for closure. But how seriously are looking at schools that didn’t improve and are going to rush where [inaudible] schools, or are they sort of on the list for closure? And when will those closures be announced?

Mayor: Okay, a twelve part question, let me do my best here. So, okay, we’ve said from the beginning when we announced the renewal school effort that the time of decision would be November of this year and we’re sticking to that calendar. I said at the beginning we would give schools up to three years to prove that they could get better with big investments we are making in them. And some schools have done really, really well. And I think are well on the way to no longer being renewal schools. Others may need some more time, but are showing consistent progress so we’re going to look at that option. There are going to be some when we go through the whole process. I am certain some will be slated for closure. But again we have not done that full process yet. And there’s others as the Chancellor has pointed out that for a long time we’re just getting too small to be effective. And so there will be situations, again we’ve done this before. We’ve already had some closures, we’ve already had some mergers and you should expect more of those. But there will be a very thorough process with each school. We want a lot of engagement with the school community with parents and teachers on how we’re going to handle each situation. But you know, we’ll have that plan together in November. Do you want to add?

Chancellor Fariña: Yeah, I want to add that one of the things we’re looking at – because you know, for the last two days I have analyzed this in so many different way. We’ll also be looking as I said at school leadership. You will be seeing some leadership changes, even in September of this year in schools that we feel that maybe with different leaders they will have at least some improved results. We’re also digging deeper in terms of is it in a specific grade that came down. And we’re also analyzing – we have a phenomenal renewal team, but we’re also going to be doing a little work on the renewal team and making much more specific direct instruction – directors to go to all the schools to visit and analyze, because the test scores matter, but they’re only one of the multiple measures. You know, for the first time we now have over 200 highly effective teachers for example in the Bronx. That wasn’t true before. So with the schools that had more of those teachers doing better results and if that’s not doing more we’ll move in that direction. Are people using their Monday 80-minutes? So it’s about looking deeper at every single school on the list and also one of the things that I’ve already figured out. There are several schools that are out performing others with what appears to be the same demographics. What are the lessons learned? How do we have show case schools, even in renewal schools that other people can go visit and see what it is. The departmentalization of fifth grade came out of one of our renewal schools, 154 in district seven. And the progress that Allison showed in that school is something that our other schools are copying from. So this is going to require a lot deeper analysis but combined with all the other things the Mayor said. We’ll be making some decisions in the fall.

Mayor: Okay, yes Erin.

Question: So this question that the math achievement gap actually got worse with [inaudible] increasing  1.2 percent to 0.7 for black children and 1 percent for Hispanics. So are you doing anything to address this and does this indicate to you, you know any kind of problem with how the schools are serving would actually make up the majority of students?

Mayor: We are doing a lot to address it. The way I would summarize this is as a layman. Is we had progress across all demographic groups and that’s a very good thing. What’s not good enough is that we need to close that achievement gap. And that’s where the Equity and Excellence vision comes in. we never expected it to have instantaneous results. We knew this would be something we’d have to build over years and years. But I am convinced that building blocks are now in place. You’re going to see over the coming years the effect of pre-K, which I think is going to be disproportionally positive for kids of color who often did  not get a full day early childhood education. You’re going to see as 3-K comes into play, that’s going to magnify that positive effect. Obviously, the focus on reading by the end of second grade going into third grade, getting all of our kids on grade level. That’s in some ways going to be the single most profound change and again that will disproportionally help young people of color. So I would say it is a very good thing that test scores are improving across all demographic groups. But to close the achievement gap, these bigger reforms have to really take hold, and we expect to see that over the next few years. Other questions, way back, yes Andrew.

Question: Mr. Mayor, how do you respond to charter school advocates when you say that the increase in test scores is driven by them and without the charter school performance city public schools are [inaudible] there?

Mayor: Well, we have shown the disaggregation, I think the State and their data shows that. And clearly there was progress across the traditional public schools very substantial and meaningful progress. Because again, it was all districts, all demographic groups, math and English both. You know, we want to see success from the charter schools as well. We want to see them improve, and you know the bottom line approach we take is, we want all kids to do well in our school system with our traditional public schools and our charter schools. We also want kids in religious schools to do well. And so for example when we’ve put together a lot of our newest initiatives; pre-K, after school for all middle school kids, now 3-K. We’re doing that with traditional public schools and charter schools and religious schools and community based organizations. So, they’re all our children right, they’re all the future of New York City. We want them all to succeed. But the data shows clearly that traditional public schools have continued to make progress. Yes.

Question: Chancellor, can you talk about the percentage of students opting out of common core in New York City, and most recently out of [inaudible] in the last year?

Chancellor Fariña: Well, the Opt Out in New York City is still among the lowest in the State of New York. Parents made choices for any number of reasons. It’s obviously something that I have not encouraged. I think what we really need to reemphasize to parents. Is that by taking the test you kind of see as a leader where it is we need to support your students. So we will be making more of an emphasis this year on educating parents about some of the changes. For example, we’re going from a three day test to two a day test. I don’t know if that’s been broadcast as much as it could be out there. One of the things that I’ve been very emphatic about the last year is that I do not want to see test prep instead of teaching. The best test prep is good teaching. So as we get the word out more and more and we talk to parents about how multiple measures are used, I think that more and more parents will think I hope that this is not a bad thing. Life is all about testing one way or the other. So getting students to take some of these challenges in their classrooms with support of teachers, with their colleagues I think is really, really important. But ultimately parents do make the choice. And we have also been assured that there will not be penalties in terms of the percentage. Our number is still under five percent and – but it does affect certain grants that are given by the state, which schools cannot apply for if they have over a certain amount of Opt Outs in their individual schools.

Mayor: And let me emphasize, we’re going to again very aggressively this coming school year emphasize to parents that we fundamentally believe participation in the tests is the right thing to do. I think parents in the past felt the test in some cases were too onerous. Again, I think that both our school system and the state have addressed that issue by changing the approach to the test. I think parents felt that test scores in many cases were being used for too many things had too big an impact. We’ve shown, started with the ending of the I think ridicules grading of schools in the previous administration. We’ve shown that we’ve moved away from that high stakes testing. But I think we have to do a lot more communicating to parents that constant changes are being made to put standardized test in their proper place in the [inaudible] not to overrate them. But also it is a necessary piece of the equation and it is valuable and kids should participate and the tests are a lot more farer than they used to be.

Question: [Inaudible] that [inaudible] percent number. Do you see an increase or decrease in the last year? 

Chancellor Fariña: We saw a slight increase.

Mayor: We’ll get you the exact numbers, but there was a slight increase yes. Okay on this announcement?

Chancellor Fariña: Over here.

Question: You were talking about closing a gap with the State [inaudible] test are given on a curve. So [inaudible] test [inaudible] can reach proficiency currently. Do you support a [inaudible]?

Mayor: You’re over my head in terms of your proficiency so I don’t actually understand the nuances. But Chancellor would you like to speak to her.

Chancellor Fariña: I’m trying to figure what the question –

Question: [Inaudible] test scores and where they changed from last year?

Person: The [inaudible] were the same as last year.

Question: [Inaudible]?

Chancellor Fariña: We can get that, but the reality is one of the things that the commissioner was very clear about that this test could be compared to last year’s test. That may not happen going forward in terms of the made changes. But these two tests were actually comparable to each other.

Mayor: Okay.

Question: [Inaudible] district 15 where we had quintupled the city’s opt out rate, and there wasn’t any difference between district 15 and other districts are that Chancellor Fariña you came to interact [inaudible] and affirmed many that are deeply more concerned that our educators have about the tests. And I am wondering if there [inaudible] Excellence for All, I am wondering what [inaudible] for all, if you would be willing to share what you said [inaudible] –

Mayor: Let me, let me.

Chancellor: Look, let me very clear –

Mayor: First of all, I just – let me jump in on a ground rule. I appreciate the very sincere questions but this is a press conference for media, so I didn’t realize you were a parent, and we definitely want to address the issue, so we’ll give you an answer here. But then from this point on, we’re taking media questions.

Chancellor Fariña: I have said consistently that I don’t believe in Opt Out even in closed private meetings, and I had a superintendent there – I do not believe in Opt Out. That’s where –

Mayor: And we were – the point I made before. We are going to more vigorously than over, openly, publicly, communicate with parents, and take the questions too and concerns to show the changes. I don’t think parents understand and I don’t blame them. I don’t think we’ve shown them the changes we’re making to approach the task. And I want parents to be more comfortable about those changes. I think there has to be a lot more dialogue in this coming school year. Okay last call on media questions on this topic and then I have to give a quick update I want to give and then I’ll take other questions. But on this topic last call.

Question: Could you talk a little bit more about [inaudible] scores. The extent to which they outpace the overall city scores and just [inaudible] that when you [inaudible] with the investment [inaudible] –

Mayor: So let me have Michelle Paladino first do the exact scores and then let me speak to the bigger point, and the Chancellor will –

Senior Director for Research and Policy Michelle Paladino, Department of Education: So Renewal Schools went up 3.2 points compared to the citywide of 2.6 in English. And they went up 1.5 points in math compared to 1.3 for the city.

Mayor: So look, here’s what I’d say. I want to just frame it for a moment, because I think it is really important to remember where we came from. The previous approach to struggling schools, I think too often was in the previous administration was to close them down, leave a lot of kids in the lurch in the years after or the years of the closure, right? So you have these kind of cusp years where things were not ready for the new school and the school was phasing out and a lot of kids I think got undereducated and treated unfairly in that time. There was a poor process for engaging parents. And there wasn’t a clear sense of why the alternatives that would come in would be superior to that which is there. We said from the beginning we wanted to show a clear open investment program in the schools that have historically struggled. And it’s all also very clearly linked to other realities. These are  a lot of schools where kids unfortunately  come from lower income families or from families that many, many English language learners in the family who of course are going to have a harder time learning English and growing in our school system in our first year. So we knew that there was a historic approach that hadn’t worked. We wanted to show very openly that we would give every school a chance to succeed. And this was both a matter of educational philosophy but also an article of faith with parents. So look, we’re going to invest in your school and we’re going to invest in your kids and we’re going to give every chance to succeed. We did exceptional things like adding after school programs, adding an extra period of instruction, that really were tangible. But we also said three years was going to be the max from time frame for decisions.

In some cases, even before three years we decided a school should not continue in place or should be merged. But what I think we expect at the end of this process in the next three months, is that again, a good number of schools are going to make for the long haul. I can’t give you the exact number yet but I can say based on everything I am seeing. We always thought there was a chance, a substantial number. Dozens of schools are going to make it for the long haul. Some are going to need a little more work but have the clear potential to make it for the long haul getting better all the time. Others undoubtedly are going to close. I don’t have an exact number for you or which ones yet. And then some other I think will merge. But what we can say will be profoundly different from the previous experiences that everyone will have seen with their own eyes that a strong effort was made to see if the school could be turned around as it was. And if it can’t be achieved there is going to be real numbers, real facts as to why and then a clear process for creating something else. Now the other thing that we’ve done that was not done in the past is we’ve said to parents if your school doesn’t make it, you will have your child assigned to one or two or three specific options. You’re not going to have to hunt. You’re not going to be left in the lurch. You have an opportunity to go right into another option the following school year – a school that is doing better – and have that continuity – that was not part of the previous approach. So, that’s the way we’re thinking about it, and, again, we’ll come to all of those decisions and announce them in the fall. 


Question: It doesn’t usually generate much discussion I think because it’s a forgone conclusion at this point, but the City’s Asian kids perform the best in both math and English. A lot of these kids aren’t rich, a lot of them aren’t in the best neighborhoods, a lot of them don’t speak English when they come here. Do you have any theories as to why they achieve at this clip?

Mayor: I don’t pretend to be an expert on that. I think every child is different, every family is different. I think, historically, families that do have stronger economic circumstances do better, and a lot of those kids also came from families that were middle class and doing well. But no, I don’t have an overall theory. I think for years and years in this city and all over the country, a lot of kids were not given a decent education, and we’re trying to break a cycle of history, and that’s what the Equity and Excellence vision is all about. So, you know, I think it’s a question that will be very different to answer as this approach takes hold. This will be a great control model – every kid getting early-childhood education – first, pre-K, then, 3-K – every kid having a concerted effort to get them to reading level by the time they take those third grade tests. We’ve never seen anything like that before in the history of New York City. We tolerated it as a city. You know, at the end of the previous administration about 30 percent of our kids were reading on grade-level by third grade – 30 percent – that was tolerated. I’m not saying it was just about that administration, it was tolerated by every previous administration. We’ve never even tried to create consistent equity across all demographic groups. So, we believe this plan will be the first time you’re actually seeing what it looks like to apply resources evenly, and I will not be surprised if what you see is then a substantial and fast-closing of that achievement gap. 

Question: [Inaudible] what expectations do you have in terms of improved test scores based on students – you know, the expanded pre-K [inaudible]?

Mayor: I’ll start, and I’ll turn to the educators. Look, there’s no question in my mind from all of the work we’ve done in pre-K – and going right back to the experience I had with my two kids in full-day pre-K – that every child having had that experience will improve performance. Now, I remind you, we believe in multiple measures, so test scores are one of the ways that you judge performance. And some kids are great at tests, and some kids are not, but when you talk about performance overall, it is absolutely an article of faith from my point of you that if every kid has pre-K – you go from 20,000 a year to 70,000 a year – of course that’s going to affect the test scores favorably, and it should. It’s also going to affect other measures of educational achievement. So, I feel strongly that’s what we’ll start to see. 

Chancellor Fariña: I would like that say that one of the things for next year that we should be looking at is that four of the districts in the city also had the literacy coaches all last year. So, to me, combining the pre-K with the four districts that had the literacy coaches, will be a telling story. And this is mainly anecdotal, but what I’ve asked principals to look at is they’re beginning to open in September, have they already seen second graders in those four districts moving to third grade at a higher level of literacy. What I’m hearing is yes, because the independent reading component that they’ve done has made them much happier about going into third grade. So, I think there’s going to be lots of ways of measuring this, but seeing those two aligned with each other would be a good benchmark, because remember we’re tarting 10 new districts this year, but it’s the four that started last year that should be telling us something. 

Mayor: Just very quickly, I think it would help everyone if you gave them a definition of what the [inaudible] literacy coaches across the district actually does that changes day-to-day instruction. 

Chancellor Fariña: Okay. The literacy coaches – and we went from four districts last year to 14 this coming year – [inaudible] these are teachers that have been trained. They have to apply. They have to be interviewed. They have to be accepted. They have three weeks of intensive training over the summer to go into school to be what I call teacher-whisperers. They don’t work individually with students, they work with teachers, and they work with all teachers in K, first, and second grade to do model classroom lessons and also to do P-D simply for those teachers on how to teach –

Mayor: Professional development –

Chancellor Fariña: Professional development – everybody knows that. I’m the Queen of –


But the reality is that many of our teachers may not have had the right training in their college years on how to teach reading, and this goes across the board to teachers who teach special ed and teachers who teach English-language learners. And they have been very, very successful in the course of the last two years. I just went to the training this summer and the people were all – and many of these teachers have been teaching for 10, 15 years, and they said they learned strategies this summer that they never would have thought before. So, I really do think of this as one of our equity and excellence benchmarks that is really going to make a big difference. 

Question: [Inaudible] 

Mayor: Based on pre-K? I don’t – I don’t think we’ve modeled that yet. 

Chancellor Fariña: Only in my mind. 

Mayor: Yes?

Question: Just wanted to ask you about the figures – 54 percent increase and the 27 percent increase. Just wondering what those are based on? What the math is based on? Because it looks like you’ve calculated the percentage increase between two percent –

Mayor: So, I’ll start, and Michelle can go into it. We looked at the last – so, it’s four years – it’s literally four years from the last full school year of the previous administration to the school year that just ended. 

Question: [Inaudible] you’re calculating the percentage change between two figures that are already percents?

Senior Director Michelle Paladino: So, it’s showing the percent change. So, for the 14 points, that represents 54 percent increase over the 2013 year.

Mayor: Just say what the original point was and the –

Senior Director Michelle Paladino: So, it’s 14.2 points, and that translates to 54 percent. 

Mayor: Right, I’m saying the starting point four years ago – the proficiency level was?

Senior Director Michelle Paladino: 26.4. 

Mayor: Okay. And now, the proficient level is?

Senior Director Michelle Paladino: 40.6.

Mayor: Right. So, think about – forget the percentages for a moment, just think about kids. That extrapolates to only 26 percent of our kids used to be proficient, now 40 percent of our kids are proficient. That’s a substantially larger number of kids who are proficient for the same kind of test, for the same grade level. So, we simply said what the percentage jump had been. 

Question: I guess – you know what, I studied math decades ago. My recollection was that, that wasn’t the right way to calculate that figure. You have to take the raw number of students who were proficient and then compare it to the –

Senior Director Michelle Paladino: That’s what we did, yeah. I mean, it’s just another way of looking at the same 14.2, it’s just demonstrating how much that 14.2 means relative to where it started in 2013. 

Mayor: Michelle will happily compare math techniques with you. 


Mayor: Alright, anything else on this announcement? And you are? I don’t know you, you’re from the media, yes? Go ahead. 

Question: [Inaudible] the schools that do succeed – are you concerned that they might become victims of their own success because if they lose a lot of the funding and the support that [inaudible]?

Mayor: That’s a very important question, I appreciate it. First of all, if we believe a school needs continued help, we’re certainly ready to do that. We have to work out the details, but we’re not going to leave a school in the lurch if we think it is succeeding but needs a certain amount of support to maintain and consolidate the gains, right? I believe what you’re going to see is momentum dynamics, because we’ve seen it in plenty of other school already. They get to a certain critical mass point where things are working – often, there’s new and better leadership, or new teachers have come in, master teachers have come in, whatever it may be that’s helped to strengthen the situation, and that support is not needed for the long-term – I think that’s what you’re going to find. You might see another year or two where some extra support is needed, but then the school will be on a positive, consistent track and can be handled the way any other school would be. I think if you had a school that for years, and years, and years you thought could not break through, then it would beg the question of whether that should ultimately be a closure. So, as I indicated, it’s not going to be as simple as – the only outcomes are, you graduate – a school graduate’s out of renewal status, or is closed, or is merged. I think there is another category – a school that is making steady progress needs support for at least one more year, or maybe two more years, and then we expect to graduate out. 

Question: [Inaudible] are not even on the teaching side, but are on the help, support [inaudible] who still have those kinds of needs, then what happens to the students? 

Mayor: Yeah. And I think the important point – and I’ll say it, and the Chancellor can speak to it as well – literally you’re talking about an individual judgement on each school based on many measures and trying to determine strategy that will work for the long-term. So, we’re going to reserve the right to make a choice in each case. If we think a school is doing really, really well, it needs one particular kind of investment – we do this all of the time with schools. Sometimes – it’s part of the brilliance of what the Chancellor has done – she looks at each school individually, and she has the capacity to do it, literally figuring out what each school needs to succeed. So, to use your example, if we say, hey, a school’s made steady progress, but we think taking away a particular attribute could be harmful – well, we have the option to keep that attribute in place. 

Chancellor Fariña: I think also we have to be very clear that we hold school [inaudible] and other categories as well, not just in the renewal world. So, how long do you hold [inaudible]? A year? Two years? But the other piece is, when you’re talking about the mental health clinics and all those things that are crucial, that’s part of our community involvement, our community-based organizations, and our community schools. So, I do not anticipate that that will be taken away, but, I think, for example, we have positions that we have assigned to renewal schools – like DSR’s, the renewal school people – and they may spend less time in a school that’s doing well and more time in a school that needs more support. So, how we use those particular positions will change based on what we see in the schools. I think also looking at schools – if there’s a principal – and I can think of at least 10 – that have done some outstanding work, do they become partners with other principals to show and reflect the work they’re doing? So, we’re going to be looking at our renewal team, and we already started restructuring what some of the support will look like based on these new numbers. So, obviously, we’re going to be making changes all the time, but if there’s certain things like the support for parents that we think is crucial in certain communities, that’s not going to go away. If anything, we’d like to add that in schools that are not renewal schools. 

Mayor: Any other – yes?

Question: [Inaudible]

Chancellor Fariña: Well, first of all, how in the world can you close an achievement gap in one or two years? I mean, it’s taken 20 years to create the gap. It’s going to take us, hopefully, a lot less –

Mayor: I would argue, respectfully, a lot more than 20 years to create the gap.

Chancellor Fariña: So, here, the fact that we’re even talking about it, focused on it, everybody’s [inaudible] into their head and we’re taking about it constantly. There isn’t a meeting I go to where it’s not part of the discussion. And now, we’re saying to people, no excuses allowed, this is something you have to work on. I just went to the new teacher training [inaudible] and one of the things that really stood out to me is the excitement of new teachers coming [inaudible]. So, if we’re going to close the gap, we also need to make sure that people want to become teachers, that the teachers in front of children’s classrooms reflect who they are – we’re doing a lot of recruiting on that – but also that we talk about teaching in the most positive way. So, we’re not going to close the gap overnight. I have a real – and Michelle will reinforce this – when I see percentages – there’s a percentage that may be too high and I have to say, my God, how did we get there? So, this is slow and steady wins the race, but this is definitely our goal across the board in every school in New York City, not just in some schools. 

Mayor: Yeah, look, this is based on generations of disparity, and that doesn’t, for a moment, make us any less urgent in our desire to address it, we’re just clear-eyed that this is going to be a long battle. But what’s good is, we’re seeing consistent progress. Students of color are doing better all the time. Here’s the three simple things I use as evidence of why literally the approach previously was not serious about addressing disparity – and I’m saying that across many administrations and many chancellors – because we didn’t start where we could have the biggest impact, which was early childhood education. If you do not provide universal early childhood education, you are magnifying disparities in our society. So, one of the actual difference-makers we have that creates a level playing field is to give every child full-day, high-quality, early childhood education. I’m convinced you’re going to see a very substantial impact from that as that takes full effect. The second was literacy – again, we think we’re the greatest city in the world – we are the greatest city in the world in so many ways – how are only 30 percent of our kids reading on grade level by third grade, which is considered by a lot of educators the great indicator whether you can continue to progress effectively. That didn’t need to be. There could have been a focus on literacy early on that should absolutely require to focus on early childhood education as well. And then I use the advanced placement example. Talk about disparity – you had high school for generations who had advanced placement courses, and you had others that hadn't none, and that, bluntly, obviously correlated to race and class – it’s as clear as a bell. What kind of message does it send to kids that you go to high school and there’s no advanced placement courses, but two miles away there’s a high school that has a lot of advanced placement courses, and in the other high school the message is you’re going to college, but in your high school the message is don’t even bother, right? That’s the history in too many cases. We’re flipping the script on that. Every high school has advanced placement courses. Every middle school and high school will send a message – any kid can make to college, if that’s what’s right for them. So, I believe we will, year by year, close that achievement gap. I really do. But I don’t think it would ever have been possible if these fundamental changes weren’t made. 

Let’s see if there’s anything else on this announcement – okay, let me go to the quick update I mentioned. 

So, we have just gotten information about an hour ago from the National Weather Service. We have a heat advisory on and this will be in effect until six o’clock tonight. So, it’s a brief period of time but people need to take it seriously. Temperatures have been going up throughout the morning into the afternoon.

We’re in the low 90s now. The heat index makes it feel like more than 100 degrees. So, for the next five, six hours it’s going to be intensely hot. We hope that will break tonight and we’ll be back to more normal summer temperatures by tomorrow. But in the meantime, the classic rules people should live by – stay hydrated throughout the day, don’t go outdoors any more than you need to, stay in a cool place as much you can.

If you need a cool place and you don’t have one, you can call 3-1-1. We have cooling centers open now all over the city. And finally, please check on your neighbors, particularly seniors or folks who are ill to make sure they are okay and they have everything that they need.

So, I wanted to give you that update and now welcome questions on any other topics. In the back, yes, Andrew.

Question: [Inaudible] demonstration on the steps of this building about bias training. Some families and teachers have said that you had promised to provide bias training for teachers and here we are [inaudible] before the start of school. They say it has not been scheduled and has not taken place. Can you explain that?

Mayor: Sure. Look, this is a case of everyone being in rigorous agreement. I believe Councilmember Reynoso is a part of this demonstration. I agree with the vision he has and we in fact came to an agreement in June on how to proceed and we’re following through on that agreement.

So, if the folks who are demonstrating are trying to emphasize how much this is important, we agree with them and not just because of the horrible events in Charlottesville but even before that. Back in June, we had long come to the conclusion that we wanted to do a lot more in training our teachers in this area, and we’re going to do it.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I’m not sure that’s accurate –

Chancellor Fariña: Because we’ve had this summer. We have been training teachers and we expect to continue training them as the beginning of the school year.

Mayor: In other words, we’re following through on what we committed to and we feel it’s been consistent. Okay, Yoav?

Question: Mr. Mayor, I wanted to ask you – there are a number of Councilmembers who think the Christopher Columbus statue should be included among the City’s review. Wondering if you had a personal opinion about that but also if that kind of suggests how kind of tricky an issue this might be to tackle –

Mayor: Look, everyone should acknowledge these are complex issues and that’s why it was important to put together a commission, which we will coming days – folks with a lot of expertise looking at this kind of issues – to, as I said yesterday, to come back with both an approach that’s universal, a universal set of standards that can governor how we deal with monuments of concern on City-owned lands and their specific proposals about specific monuments. And then I’ll make decisions based from there.

I said yesterday and I want to emphasize it today and for every press conference thereafter – I’m not going to editorialize on each and every name, and each and every monument. I think the important thing to do is let that commission get going, let them take every nomination – if you will – from everyday New Yorkers, from elected officials, activists, look at the whole picture and come back with a plan.

That’s what I want to see happen. Marcia.

Question: So, this is sort of a follow-up questions. A number of [inaudible] are upset about [inaudible] I wondered if you [inaudible] should be buried [inaudible] –

Mayor: Marcia, I’m not familiar with that history. Obviously, I take it very seriously but I’m just not familiar with it. We don’t tolerate anti-Semitism in New York City. It’s as simple as that but I’m going to put it in the same category as I just did. We have to look at each one of these cases. We’ll have a commission that does that. They’re going to come up with some universal rules about how to approach these situations and some recommendations about the areas that are of concern. But it’s just not my place to editorialize on each one. I don’t know the facts.

Question: [Inaudible] guidelines, I assume. How far do they go in deciding what’s appropriate for New York City and what’s not?

Mayor: The role of a commission is to advise. They’re not making the ultimate decision. Depending on the specific sites, if it’s something my agencies control I’ll make the decision with my agencies. Other situations we may handle differently.

But again, we have not looked at this as city in a consistent basis. Let’s be really clear about that, Marica. We are starting from scratch. I think a lot of history that needs to be re-evaluated went unspoken for, for a long time, and a lot of people felt pain because of that. And we’ve got to come up with some kind of standard for dealing with it.

These issues, you’ve watched this stuff for a long time. I mean these are things that have been brought up over years and years. This particular instance, I honestly don’t know and I thought I knew something about American history but I don’t know about that at all.

But a number of the other things that have been talked about recently have been raised over years but there was no forum for making sense of it all. And I think the events in Charlottesville but other events have really put to the fore a desire in this city and this country to finally make sense of our past and decide what we want to honor going forward.

It’s a big complex area. So, I think you’re asking the right questions, you know. Where do we go? But I think the best thing New York City can do is try and create some kind of ground rules, try and create some kind of model. And it’s going to be an open, public discussion, right. We want people to be able to propose what they think should happen and how to go about it, and specific things that should be looked at.

When it’s all over, what I hope we have is something any New Yorker can look at and say, okay, that’s a fair standard. That makes sense. Not everyone’s going to agree. You got eight-and-half million people. But at least, you know a plan – because right now all you can do is, everyone think about each one individually. And that doesn’t work. We have to make sense of this as a whole.

Question: [Inaudible] President Grant, I mean, does that give you pause given the fact that he did [inaudible] –

Mayor: Again, Marcia, no disrespect to you – I don’t know that – you’re the first person to say it to me. I don’t know the history. I have no context so, I’m not going to comment on something I’m hearing for the first time. I’m sure he is a complex historical figure like many others but the right thing to do is to actually have a public process to make sense of this.

By the way, there have been countries in the world that went through horrible wars, violent civil wars, and had truth and reconciliation commissions – a much more difficult task than what we’re talking about here.

Surely in New York City we can have an open civic process to decide what we want to celebrate and what we don’t want to celebrate going forward. That’s what it comes down to, right. We’re talking about things that are monuments that we, in effect, give some kind of public approval to.

We have to make sense of what to do. And I also want to caution, Marcia, on City-owned land. Anything that’s federal is – we can have opinions on them but the federal government’s going to make that decision. This commission will focus on things that are on City-owned land. Yes, Gloria.

Question: Mr. Mayor, same topic. There is a – Councilmember Mark Levine is calling on you to remove the portrait of Governor Horatio Seymour that’s hanging inside City Hall. I believe his campaign slogan – I’m sorry to carry on a history lesson here – was that white men rule. He’s writing to you today to remove that from inside City Hall. Have you looked at that –

Mayor: No, I have not looked at, never have heard of this individual. Don’t know anything about his, obviously, horrible campaign slogan. So, again, I’m not going to comment on individual situations particularly ones I’ve never heard of before. We’re going to have a process.

So, I want to say guys, over the coming weeks, it’s really going to be 90 days, you can ask as many times as you want. I’m going to keep saying to you – this is going to be handed to the commission to try and make sense of everything as a whole. And that’s a big job but that – we have to try and treat these things, you know, as a whole product where we make one standard that we will use to address everything on City-owned property.

Question: Does that include extending things like [inaudible] Wall Street? Keeping -

Mayor: I think it’s a different matter. I think that is – it is related, there’s no question. It gets to the question of how we approach public monuments. So, I think that’s a different question which is what do we do with a new monument that as you know sometimes temporary art exhibits have been allowed. This is one that was allowed on a temporary basis. There is now a desire to make it permanent. I gave it another year so we could think about that. But I think that is a different discussion from what I want this commission to do.

Question: Is the commission only going to be looking at existing statutes or is there any thought about adding new statues as far as people who haven’t been recognized historically and should be?

Mayor: Yeah –

Question: Do you have any thoughts on –

Mayor: I think that’s –

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: No, it’s a fair point but I think that’s even a mission still. I think the first mission is to make sense of what we have on City-owned land. And we can comment on anything controlled by the federal government. We can comment on anything controlled by the State. We can comment on things that are on private property. But the job right now is to look at what is going on City-owned land, City buildings, etcetera, come up with a clear standard, take any and all ideas and nominations from everyday New Yorkers, and we’ll set up a public process to do that. Come up with a standard, come up with a list of recommendations that fit that standard for what to do with what we have now.

I think a separate issue – you raise an important point – is well, do we want to start to do some new things that might also be about creating fairness and a better representation of our history. I know we have a lot more to do on that front. I think it’s Helen Rosenthal, from the City Council, who has made the point that there is not a single monument or statue to a women in all of Central Park. And there’s all sorts of other statues and monuments to men.

That’s a clear example of the kind of thing we need to think about and change going forward. But, again, I see this commission as trying to make sense of what we have now and coming up with a single standard to address what we have already.

Question: So, Mr. Mayor, would this commission apply only to statues or also to like school names? I mean – seems to me there’s a broadness –

Mayor: Sure.

Question: It’s limitless.

Mayor: I don’t think it’s limitless but I think it’s a good point. I mean I didn’t know about this portrait until Gloria mentioned it five minutes ago. So, I wasn’t even thinking about portraits in City Hall but it’s a perfectly fair question. To some extent, the commission is going to have to figure out what are the appropriate boundaries of what we’re talking about in terms of things on City-owned land. Statues and monuments are obvious. I think it’s a fair question, you know, the naming of buildings – is that something we want to look at.

We may end up doing this in stages because it is big and complex stuff. Look, guys, we’re trying to unpack 400 years of American history here. That’s really what’s going on. I want to – I know you guys have to think about writing a story for today and I respect it but I would say talk about having to add some historical perspective to the equation.

This is complicated stuff but you know it’s a lot better to be talking about it and trying to work through it than ignoring it because I think for a lot of people in this city and in this country, they feel, you know, their history has been ignored or affronts to their history have been tolerated.

You know, I have to say the obvious – I was watching a ball game the other night and I was looking at the Cleveland Indians and they have the logo of the – really derogatory logo of a Native American on their sleeve. I’m like how is that possible in the year 2017, right. And if you happen to be Native American, that must feel pretty bad.

So, this is something we’re talking about all over the country. It’s not going to happen overnight. This is the first step in trying to create a better approach. But, Rich, I think you ask a good question – how much should be covered in the first round? I could say at minimum we’re going to deal with monuments and statues. We have to figure out how much more and if it’s something we end up doing over more months and years, we’ll do it.

Okay, last call –

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Two last calls. One and then two. Go ahead.

Question: Can you or maybe the Chancellor just give us an update on the Absent Teacher Reserve and what happened to those teachers involved in it as we approach the upcoming school year?

Mayor: I’ll start and then I’ll pass it to the Chancellor. Look, we have been very serious about reducing the Absent Teacher Reserve. I don’t like the way it was handled in the past and I felt very strongly that our mission is to make sure good teachers – and that’s the vast majority of our teachers – that good teachers have every opportunity to thrive and grow in their profession. There’s a huge emphasis on professional development, this Chancellor has included. But also there are people who shouldn’t be in the profession and we want to make sure for someone who shouldn’t be in the profession that they are aided in moving along, and that’s been about 19,000 teachers over the last four years who have left the profession.

In terms of the Absent Teacher Reserve, we’ve reduced it about 300 from where it was at this same in time at the end of the last administration. We have a plan to reduce it by 400 more. So, now we’re 800-plus. We’re going to reduce it by 400 more in the next jump.

And we’re going to give every quality teacher an opportunity to get on a good track. And teachers who have, you know, some challenges and some question marks will have a chance to once-and-for-all prove themselves. And if they can’t do it, there’s going to be a fast and clear and rigorous evaluation process. And if they don’t succeed in that process then we’re going to help them out of the profession too.

Chancellor Fariña: Well, first and foremost, that this is not forced placement. All principals in New York City have until the middle of October to fill any vacancy that they have in their schools. I want to say that again. As a principal, when I was under the older regime – not just prior but many, many prior – if I got a teacher on what was then called the seniority transfer [inaudible] I had to lose one of my own teachers, so, a teacher that I had hired.

That is not the case here. So, first and foremost, any principal who can fill a vacancy based on wither job fairs or however else they can do it, by all means, they should be encouraged to do so. By October 15th, you theoretically have a class with no teacher standing in front of it. We now have all these teachers who are licensed teachers who could be working in front of those classes.

They will be assigned to schools. Principals will interview them as they would have interviewed anyone else, and they will receive support from Randy Asher and his team to make that teacher as successful as possible.

I also want to say that there are a substantial number of ATR teachers who are actually okay, and not only okay but good. I went to a school recently where the principal introduced me to the ATR teacher. She’s fabulous. But then when I say, well, why aren’t you hiring her it comes down to money. “Well, if I can get her for free –” we have to stop playing these games.

So, to me the ATRs are – will be placed after October 15th in consultation with the principal and then supported to the degree that if it’s not a good fit then we will help that teacher either leave the system or go somewhere else.

So, I feel very, very comfortable that this is the right way to go to get a good teacher in front of every classroom. And also, I want to reiterate because I don’t think everybody’s on the same page on this one, these teachers have no longer been sitting in rubber rooms since I got here.

They have been going to schools. They have been rotated from one school to another. They have been rotated every other month. This is a way of saying, you can’t prove if you’re a good teacher or not a good teacher unless you’ve been in a situation over time.

So, this placement in a school over time, to me, is a good way to in good faith do what’s best for teachers, for principals, but most importantly for kids. So, I do believe this is the right way to go and I certainly will be monitoring this very closely during the beginning of the school year.

Mayor: Last call [inaudible] –

Question: Talking with Sal Albanese ahead of the debate, he said that one of the major things he’s going to stress is about ethics and about City Hall having questions around donations and favors [inaudible] discussed a lot of over the last couple of years.

Why do you think that at this point [inaudible] that that is something he sees as a vulnerability?

Mayor: I can’t speak for him. I mean, you know, all of those issues were looked at by multiple entities and everything was resolved. And look, I think the election should be not about things in the past that are already behind us but about what’s going to be necessary for everyday New Yorkers to do better in this city.

So, I’m going to talk about affordable housing. I’m going to talk about things we just did with the City Council – thank you, Danny – like making sure anyone facing eviction has a lawyer to stop illegal evictions and harassment by landlords.

I’m going to talk about improved test scores, improved graduation rates for our kids. I’m going to talk about crime going down for four years in a row. I think that’s what people want to talk about and they want to know what’s next and what’s going to make it better and how are people are going to be able to afford to live here.

So, I think it must be difficult if you’re a challenger and you’re looking at those facts, I guess you have to try and change the discussion to something else because it’s hard to argue with those facts.

Question: You said earlier that you will be announcing which Renewal Schools will be closed in November [inaudible] June. Are you worried then that the ATR pool will swell again with rapid school closures?

Mayor: Well, I’ll start and pass to the Chancellor. Look, first of all, we’re talking about, in the scheme of things, a pretty limited number of schools. You know, some have already been acted on as you know of the original pool. And again I’m convinced a very substantial number will continue either “graduate” out of the renewal status or get an extension to continue to get support.

But I think the new approach that’s been taken to the ATRs emphasizes that for again, the vast majority of teachers who are teachers end up in ATR for example because of a closure or a merger, that right away we’re identifying them and working to get them to their next assignment for the following September.

That wasn’t done sufficiently before and I really want to commend Randy Asher who I know very well from Dante’s four years as a student at Brooklyn Tech. He is focused on – you know, you never even have to go to the ATR pool in that kind of context.

You finish the school year one place, you’re identified as a teacher ready to go into a new setting, and your new setting is chosen with you and with the principal in time for the following September.

So, I do not see a major impact on the numbers.

Chancellor Fariña: No, I would agree. We have a very specific protocol going into this now to do as much of this from the day we announce it to the opening of school. So, I do not see that as an issue.

Mayor: Thanks, everyone.

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