Stop and listen! That’s what parents, community leaders and a group of elected officials are asking Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg. Stop and listen before going ahead with yet another restructuring of the school system.
Not surprisingly, after the student busing disaster, the recently announced reorganization of the schools has sent shivers through teachers, parents and students.
They "came up with this scheme without ever asking parents or teachers what’s working and what needs to change," said parent leader Ana Cartanega. "It’s our children that will continue to suffer."
That is precisely the parents’ and community leaders’ No. 1 complaint: They have not been consulted about something as vital to their children and to the city as the future of the school system.
And yesterday, a concerned group of them held a press conference and sent a clear message to Klein: Hold any further changes to the system, and engage parents, teachers and others who really have a stake in the system in a meaningful dialogue with the Department of Education – a dialogue they say has not existed in recent years.
"Relations between parents and the Department of Education have never been more strained. This is hurting our kids and our schools. We need to repair this relationship and parents, once and for all, need a voice in our schools," said Tim Johnson, chaiman of the chancellor’s parent advisory council.
The group had some concrete recommendations as to how the Department of Education could improve communication with the parents. In a written statement, they "urged Chancellor Klein to delay any further changes to the system for this school year, and set up a series of community meetings around the city to hear parent, teacher and student concerns."
The deep discontent among parents, teachers, students and community leaders with the chancellor’s and the mayor’s exclusive decision-making style is widespread.
"We are at an odd crossroads right now. Teachers in this city have never been paid more, but at the same time, they have never been listened to less. If we value teachers enough to pay them better wages, shouldn’t we be taking their advice about how to best educate children?" said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
And just last week, another group of concerned parents and community leaders also held a press conference in which they had voiced pretty much the same complaints.
The NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, an umbrella group formed by Make the Road By Walking, ACORN and the Brooklyn Education Collaborative, also stated that the mayor and the chancellor do not pay attention to what parents and the community have to say.
According to them, no attempt has been made by the Department of Education to hear their points of view in relation to the school system. They – the parents – have been ignored, and it is not surprising that this had created so much resentment and misunderstanding.
As City Council Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson said, "Parents must be consulted on any dramatic changes to their children’s education. It is entirely unacceptable for the Department of Education to continue to formulate, propose and implement these widespread and systematic changes without ever getting input from the parents who are being the most directly affected by these policies or the elected officials and education advocates who represent their interests.
"It is time for the mayor and the chancellor to stop their dismissive approach and begin to engage parents and advocates so we can work together for the improvement of our children’s education."
The message the mayor and the chancellor is clear: Stop and listen! Come down off your high horse and pay attention to parents and teachers before implementing any further drastic changes in the schools. It’s not too much to ask.