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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Hoping to Quiet Critics, Bloomberg Picks a Parent in Chief for the City’s Schools

Faced with mounting criticism from parents over recent changes in school bus routes and plans to reorganize the city school system, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg named a veteran education advocate yesterday to represent them at the Department of Education. 

Martine G. Guerrier, 36, will have the title of chief family engagement officer. She was previously the communications director and Albany legislative representative for the Educational Priorities Panel, an advocacy group for New York City’s public schools. For the past three years, she also has been the Brooklyn borough president’s appointee to the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, where she most notably voted against the mayor’s plan in 2004 to hold back third graders largely on the basis of test scores. 

Ms. Guerrier, who will earn $150,000 in her new post, was accompanied to the announcement by her 10-year-old son, Domenic, a fifth grader at Public School 133 in Brooklyn. She suggested that had her new post existed a few months ago, the city might have waited until September to change school bus routes. 

“I don’t know that that decision would have been made in the same way had there been a parent at the table,” she said. “And I think that’s one of the great benefits of having me there.” 

Ms. Guerrier’s appointment came just hours before a raucous rally at St. Vartan’s Cathedral in Manhattan, where more than 1,000 politicians, parents, community activists and teachers protested Mr. Bloomberg’s plans to further overhaul the city school system.  

At the rally, the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., mocked the mayor’s multiple efforts to reorganize the schools. “I haven’t seen this many parents and teachers and students together in over five years,” he said. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, described for the rally a meeting yesterday at which she and other organizers met with Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein to voice their complaints. “The chancellor said he will listen,” she said. “But will he really hear us?” 

Earlier, in announcing Ms. Guerrier’s appointment, Mr. Bloomberg said city schools had made great strides in reaching out to parents under his leadership, particularly by placing “parent coordinators” in every school. 

“Rising test scores and improving graduation rates in schools across the city show that we really are on the right track,” the mayor said. “But we can do more, and we must do more, to make parents full partners in their children’s education, and we realize that there are a lot of parents in the city who agree.”  

But Mr. Bloomberg’s critics said Ms. Guerrier’s appointment — and the fact that it was announced by the mayor, and not simply by Mr. Klein, to whom Ms. Guerrier will report — signals that the administration recognizes that parents feel shut out. And those parents, the critics say, could be a liability when mayoral control of the school system comes up for legislative renewal in 2009.  

“I don’t know how you could interpret this as anything but an admission of failure on their part,” said Tim Johnson, chairman of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council. Referring to Ms. Guerrier’s job, he added: “Parents are not looking for another bureaucrat to manage us. We don’t need to be managed, we need parents to be empowered.”  

Merryl H. Tisch, a member of the Board of Regents from New York City who is generally a supporter of Mr. Bloomberg, said the creation of Ms. Guerrier’s position seemed to indicate that Mr. Bloomberg “understands full well that without the parents he stands to lose legislative renewal of mayoral control.” 

“They are being proactive in trying to head off what I think is mounting parental resistance to this reorganization,” Ms. Tisch continued. “I think it’s a smart thing to do.” 

Mr. Bloomberg said that parental involvement had been a priority “from Day 1” and that Ms. Guerrier’s appointment was simply the latest effort to reach out. 

“I think you can always find a handful of parents who are politically active and want to be involved who do not feel that they are running the schools the way that they used to many years ago,” Mr. Bloomberg said.  

“Most parents,” he added, “really are pleased, and you can see it in that most parents are staying in the city. They’re not leaving, and they’re sending their kids to public school.” 

When asked about the mayor’s comments about parents being pleased, Ms. Guerrier initially replied, “I don’t think he said that.”  

But when she was assured that he had, she said, “I would say that most parents have concerns and issues that need to be addressed. 

“I would say that there is an opportunity to do things better.”