Parents and educators made their voices heard during a town hall meeting for District 30 where topics such as school overcrowding, testing and the start of a renewal program for schools were discussed.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña joined parents and members of the Community District Education Council 30 on Thursday night in Long Island City for a town hall meeting discussing issues and concerns arising in District 30.
Among the topics brought up by audience members — who were asked to write out questions on postcards that CEC 30 members read — included recent school testing, more parent engagement, overcrowding at local schools and the need for mandatory recess.
When answering questions on concerns over recent testing, which has been under criticism for being used mostly to evaluate teachers, Fariña said that the DOE is working to run things more smoothly. She believes that the tests should make up only 30 percent of the teachers’ evaluation, and the rest of the evaluation should be left to the school principals.
However, Fariña added that she does not believe opting out of the state tests is the answer.
“I want to be clear that I do believe in testing. I believe our kids are challenged every day of their lives in different ways,” she said. “As long as I have been with testing, no matter what you call the test, there’s always some stress, there’s always some fear.”
Fariña also brought up the idea of creating diagnostic tests, where students would take one test at the start of the school year and then another at the end of the year in order to evaluate progression.
In regards to parent engagement, Fariña said she wants to increase involvement of parents and guardians. She said she would like more days for parent-teacher conferences, workshops for parents, and even recommended parents start book clubs to not only create relationships but also get an idea of what books their children are assigned to read.
She also added that one of the priorities is to create more programs aimed to parents and children whose first language is not English.
“We’re working on many different levels and we’re trying to make it better for all parents to access all our schools,” Fariña said.
Among other topics discussed during the meeting was the plan to create what the chancellor called “renewal schools.”
Through this model, schools that are struggling, such as Long Island City’s P.S. 111, would become “renewed.” This means that the school day would be extended to at least 5 p.m., the school would offer extra programs with after-school programs also open to parents, health services, academic support, and some form of enrichment activities such as an arts program or physical education.
“Our job is to help struggling schools. Our job is not to close them. Our job is not assume that they have to struggle forever or be failing schools forever, and we’ve gone into the renewal school model with that fully in place,” the schools chancellor said.
At these schools there will also be renewal directors, who will work with principals to provide more support and guidance. The directors will also observe and evaluate teachers at these specific schools to make sure they are a right fit for the site.
“We need to do a wraparound service around these schools so that all the needs are met,” Fariña said. “You can say a school is only about education, but the reality is that it’s a lot more than that. They need to be community hubs. They need to be places where, to the most degree possible, we do everything we can and bar no efforts to get this done.”