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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks At The Community Schools Advisory Board Meeting

July 17, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: I really, really liked Richard Buery until the comment about the mayoralty possibly not working out. I’m going to think deeply about that.


What Richard was attempting to refer to was my appearance on Stephen Colbert last night.


And I just have to say, there is nothing more fun than hanging around with Stephen Colbert. It was a high point, for sure. And I think he’s had an extraordinary impact on the debate in this country. Whether in character or not, he’s had an incredible impact, so it was a pleasure.

Richard, I want to thank you. You’ve – I asked you to come into the beginning of something fast, intense, far-reaching. I said from the first talks we had that I was asking you to do something unprecedented, not just in terms of community schools, but in terms of pre-K, after-school, children’s cabinet, all of these initiatives that were really going to change the way we approached our work. And a lesser man, or maybe a smarter man, would have said no. But after several entreaties you said yes, and I want to thank you for taking this incredibly important role on and doing it with such grace and such inclusion of so many voices in our city. Let’s thank the deputy mayor for all he’s doing.


I’m going to talk about some of the other folks here from the administration, but first I just want to welcome everyone and thank you for agreeing to help us on this journey. Yes, as Richard said, we don’t do anything small, we don’t do anything slow. This is ambitious. This is intense and we need friends and colleagues and good minds and collaborators to help us get this done. So I want to thank everyone for joining this advisory board, to do something that really I believe will be historic. The 100 schools that we’re going to do this term – as you know, Governor Cuomo has made a commitment to do 100 schools as well. What we’re going to do here in this city and state, I think is going to have very far-reaching effects, not just for our children and our families, but beyond. So you’re really present and involved deeply in the creation of something historic, and we’re very proud of it.

I want to thank our host, Sherry Glied, and everyone at the Wagner School. Let’s give them a round of applause for giving us a chance to be in the really groovy Puck Building. I always like being here. It makes me feel immediately hip. Carmen Fariña you just heard from, who’s doing an extraordinary job leading our school system. And one of the things I see all time is the fact that people respond – teachers, parents, principals – everyone responds, not just to her passion, but to her knowledge, her experience, her tremendous history in the schools. This is the kind of leader we dreamed of, and we have it in Carmen Fariña.

I want to thank Bill Chong for his extraordinary efforts as our commissioner of youth and community development. He’s been playing a crucial role in the build out of our summer enrichment programs, which are adding a lot to kids who need it, particularly middle school kids who need it this summer, making them stronger for the upcoming school year. And also Bill is playing a key role in the development of our after-school efforts in the fall. And I’ve put a lot of burdens on him too, and he has responded every time. Let’s thank Bill Chong for all that he is doing.


I want to thank the shy and retiring Gladys Carrion. Anyone who knows Gladys got that joke. So Gladys, also another person I asked to take on an extraordinarily challenging task, making the Administration for Children’s Services work better, protect our children better, work more effectively with our families. That alone, but also playing a crucial role in the development of our pre-K program. And Gladys has taken on every challenge and is really forging tremendous reform at ACS, something a lot of us had been wanting for a long time. Let’s thank Gladys for all she is doing.


And then Marco Carrion may be in the room. I don’t see him, where is he? Marco Carrion, I’m going to talk about him whether he’s here or not. Marco Carrion, the head of our Community Affairs Unit at the Mayor’s Office, who is working with a whole host of community leaders around the city – clergy, civic activists, elected officials and others to make sure that what this administration is doing is working well with communities and we’re hearing back from communities. And we’re spreading the word on the opportunities that we’re creating, whether pre-K, after-school, yesterday paid sick leave – which we’re very proud of, which is about to start taking full effect. And we were out there at the subways spreading the word. So Marco is playing a crucial role leading our efforts to connect with communities all over the city.

So I think what has been quite clear since we started this process is that – I think the fight against inequality, which is I believe the fight of our times. I think it takes many forms, but so many of the underlying changes we have to make if we want a more equal and fair society run through education. And the most lasting changes that we will make run through education. I mentioned paid sick leave. Paid sick leave is one of the things we’re doing to address the need for better wages and benefits, to have a right now impact on people’s lives who are struggling. But for the long term, to create a society that is more fair, more inclusive, to create more success for our people, to help to chip away and ultimately greatly reduce this dynamic of so many people unable to fully participate in the economy, that task runs through our schools. And we’ve said from the beginning that the status quo in our schools is unacceptable.

It hasn’t even been a hint in what we all believe or what we’ve said as an administration, that anything like the status quo is unacceptable. We need profound changes. That’s why we’re doing full-day pre-K for all. That’s why we’re doing after-school programs for every middle school child. And that’s why we’re doing community schools. And there’ll be a lot of other pieces that you’ll see in the weeks and months ahead, but the notion is to do bold structural changes that allow us to really look at what has not yet been working for so many of our kids and so many of our families, and get under the hood and fix things more essentially. We’re very proud of the fact that our teacher contract is going to open the door to a host of reforms and changes. We’re going to have a lot more communication and connection between teachers and parents, a lot more ability for parents to play a really strategic role in their children’s education. We’re going to have a lot more opportunity for schools to act in a more creative manner, a reform program where schools get to change a lot of their own rules so that they can be more effective, so that teachers have more flexibility. We’re very excited that that’s in the contract. We’re also excited about the extraordinary response we’re getting from teachers who want to be a part of that. So fundamental changes are embedded in that contract that are going to play out for years and years.

So all of these pieces we are going to pull together, looking to the day – and I think this is a simple way to define it – looking to the day when you could look at any school in this city, you could walk into any school and feel that it’s a good choice for your child. We know – for decades there have been schools that parents have felt weren’t good enough. And they’ve sought out schools that they thought were better. And that’s understandable, and as a parent I can full relate to that. Our goal is to create enough consistency, enough progress in the school system that you could walk into any school and know it’s going to be a high-quality education. That’s what we’re striving for, and all these pieces come together in that vein.

Now , community schools to me, are one of the most important, one of the most interesting, one of the options that will, I think, one of the thrusts that will have potentially the biggest impact. Because talk about getting to the root causes. If we can address the whole child, then we can address the whole family.  And we can bring the family more deeply into the educational process. This could be the breakthrough a lot of us had been working for years and years. So many people in this room I know have spent your lives devoted to children and devoted to improving our schools. Well imagine, we’ve all been frustrated when we knew parents weren’t connected to their kid’s education, or parents weren’t getting the support they needed. We’ve all been frustrated when we knew a child had a physical health problem that was holding them back, or a mental health problem that was holding them back and going unaddressed. We’ve all been frustrated when there wasn’t communication. So many people at the front line have seen what was needed, but there wasn’t a methodology for addressing it.

Community schools give us the possibility of bringing all of these strands together coherently. Addressing the whole child and bringing the whole family in deeply and taking all of the efforts and all of the investment made in education per se, and amplifying it many times over and making schools more deeply centers of each community. There’s a lot here now. I know I – whenever I talk about my own experiences with community schools, I am very careful because Richard’s in the room, I always say Children’s Aid Society, where Richard used to wor,k was really one of the great original innovators of the Community school’s concept. Thank you Children’s Aid Society.  And then I say I went to Cincinnati, it did not necessarily all spring up in Cincinnati from whole cloth, they weren’t the only one Richard, but it’s pretty amazing.


And it is amazing because it is so total and it’s inspiring. Now, a little scale point here. I think Cincinnati has 44 schools total. That’s one of our 32 districts, right, so I think clearly we’re talking about a different scale dynamic. But what struck me in Cincinnati that I really appreciated was, it wasn’t just the fact that they were pulling the strands together. There was a demystification going on in the process. Parents, let’s face it, and we’ve all experienced it – I experienced it even going back to my time as a school board member. Parents often feel they are not welcome in the school building or their voices aren’t heard. The community school model helps overcome that and sort of normalizes and integrates parents more deeply into the schools in a healthy and positive way. Let’s face it, a lot of health problems have gone unaddressed, or swept under the rug, or were complicated, or were mysterious – and certainly talking about mental health – this is an American challenge. This country doesn’t talk about mental health openly and comfortably. And so in Cincinnati, one of the things I saw was the fact that mental health services were so readily available and that parents were encouraged to connect to it with their children, changed the dialogue, because it was a commonplace, because we weren’t talking about something you had to go seek out in a strange place or go through a whole process to connect to. It was just part of everyday life. And the “normalcy” and consistency of the presence of health services help to encourage everyone to take part in it. And then there were amazing elements like the level of volunteerism. There’s a huge volunteer element, a lot of seniors in particular coming into the schools, reading to kids, reinforcing and supporting what teachers are doing. There’s a huge business component, where the business community is deeply connected to the schools and committed to the schools for the long term. And the community school model has facilitated that. 

There’s so much potential here. And clearly we’ve said 100 of these in the first term, but that is not the end of the line. We wanted to set a number that we thought was important and ambitious, but a beginning. We all, and we need  every one of you in this room to help us do it, if we keep proving this model works, proving it’s viable, proving it’s affordable – and I believe it is fundamentally affordable, the way it’s structured I believe ultimately saves us a lot of money – but we have to keep proving it every day. Then the notion is expand it ever more deeply through the school system. And this alone could be one of the breakthroughs.

So I’ll paint the picture before I let you get back to your work. The school system, with some very real and inherent strengths, and some very real and historic problems. We come along and we say we’re going to go one by one at the problems. So we know we haven’t been reaching children early enough and effectively enough, and we know the standards have been raised in the modern age. One piece of the solution, full-day pre-K for all. We know we have a challenge, a lot of kids who need more time and attention, need more tutoring, need more homework help, need more enrichment, particularly at the middle school level. A solution, we’re going to have guaranteed afterschool for every child who needs it. We know that we have a problem of bringing parents in and connecting to them and getting teachers and parents in constant dialogue. A part of the solution, in the teacher’s contract. We know we want to foster more reform and innovation and openness, also in the teacher’s contract. We know we need the whole community involved in schools. We know we have to address the physical and mental health needs of children. We know we need families to feel the school is their home. Solution, the community schools effort.

All of these things will take time to build. But the beauty of them – I believe this in my heart– is they all build on each other, they all support each other. These are not just abstract silos. These are fundamental reforms that all support each other. And there’s a lot more to do beyond that. I’ve talked a lot about the need to constantly improve and deepen our teacher training efforts, our ability to retain quality teachers, our ability to let our own teachers move up through the school system and become administrators and do that more effectively.  There are so many other improvements we have to make. But think about what we’ll achieve if we get this right. Think about each of these layers supporting each other, and the transcendent dynamic in our schools, and the fact that we’ll say to our children that we’re investing in them constantly, because we care that deeply, we believe in them that much. We’ll say to our parents that we see them as partners and part of the solution.

This could be the transcendent moment. So thank you, for all you are doing, thank you for all your support, thank you for all your brainpower and the innovation you’re bringing to this process and the ideas. We’re going to need you throughout. This is the beginning of something much bigger, and we’re going to need you every step of the way and deeply appreciate your involvement in our efforts. Thank you so much.   


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