Tuesday evening saw the Chancellor Carmen Fariña of the Department of Education come to Dyker Heights’ P.S. 204 Vince Lombardi School for a town hall meeting.
It was an opportunity for parents in the Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge neighborhoods to express their concerns and ask questions to the Chancellor. Their questions were written anonymously on index cards, which were collected before the start of the meeting.
The town hall opened with P.S. 204’s color guard, the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. The school’s fifth grade chorus led the audience in singing the Star Spangled Banner.
Seated at a panel with the members of Community Education Council 20 alongside her, Chancellor Fariña gave a brief speech where she praised P.S. 204 for its diversity and for being one of the first New York City schools to have Grandparents Day. She also praised CEC 20’s President, Laurie Windsor, for being “wonderful” and for giving a nudge “whenever necessary”.
City Councilman Vincent Gentile was also in attendance. He spoke of his admiration for Fariña to the audience, saying she “knows CEC20 well” and “she’s at the top of her game.” Gentile is a member of the City Council’s education committee.
After Gentile spoke, things got down to business. During the hour long town hall, about 12 questions were asked. They ranged from the issue of overcrowding to school safety to the Common Core. For each question, the Chancellor gave thorough answers.
“We are looking for spaces everywhere,” she said about overcrowding in the district. “The challenges for a public school amounts to frontages, the number of exits, and legal requirements.”
She also pointed out that the Department had to consider the ages of students who would possibly go to the schools.
When answering the next question about the Common Core, Fariña defended what she called a set of strategies in the classrooms. “It’s not a curriculum. It’s not going away, it is not revolutionary,” she said.
She did though, say that one problem was the lack of preparation for the parents and teachers involving the Common Core.
Other questions asked included the issue of diversity, for which Fariña expressed her dismay over some schools not welcoming ESL students, and instead telling them to go to another school. She also expressed her concern over the decreasing number of teachers. “There are very few who want to be teachers,” the Chancellor said. “Without teachers, we’ll be in a very bad place.”
There was some applause beginning halfway through the town hall meeting. While discussing special education reforms, Fariña said, “there’s a lot more to be done, but we’ve come far”. That led to light applause.
There was light clapping again when Fariña discussed Parent Teacher Conferences, and urged parents to get more involved in those face-to-face meetings with their kids’ teachers.
She explained that parents should ask themselves, “what will this conference do that will make me a better parent in my kid’s education?”
Slight applause happened again when Fariña said that the Gifted and Talent Program will not be starting in Kindergarten anymore.
The biggest applause, however, happened towards the end when Farina was asked about after school programs for Pre-K students. “Not on my watch,” the Chancellor said firmly. “I believe four year olds need to go home and rest.”
At the end of the hour-long town hall, Chancellor Fariña once again praised District 20’s superintendent. “You have a superintendent who is one of our top superintendents.”
She also again urged parents to get involved in their children’s schooling, saying “Go to Parent Teacher Conferences ready to ask difficult questions.”
With that, the town hall came to an end. About 500 parents and children were in attendance, though that number dwindled to nearly half by meeting’s end. Translating devices were available for parents who spoke either Spanish or Chinese.