It was standing room only at P.S./I.S. 66, located at 845 East 96th Street, as the Community Education Council of District 18 hosted a Town Hall event, which was also live streamed to the public, with NYC Schools Chancellor David C. Banks on Monday, May 8th. During the event, members of the community were invited to submit their questions to the chancellor and his team, who spent well over an hour addressing a wide range of issues.
When asked what steps were being taken to decrease the incidence of police involvement in student mental health crises in schools, the chancellor explained that he meets with the police commissioner every week “in an attempt to build a spirit of collaboration and to talk about issues that affect all of our kids.” He said that the mayor has been very focused on making sure everyone is working together. DOE Security Director Mark Rampersant elaborated further, informing the group that with a new commanding officer in charge of the NYPD Academy, officers are receiving new Therapeutic Crisis Intervention training. “So, when they go to your school, they’re going to stand back a little bit and wait for you to institute all of what we have trained your Crisis Team to do to support young people, as opposed to just going in and administering handcuffs or Velcro strips,” he said. “It is not the job of the NYPD to address disciplinary issues in our schools. We do know we call them, and we want their help as well,” he went on.
The chancellor was asked how he plans to support the growing number of non-English speaking students and the teachers who feel ill-equipped to fulfill their needs, to which he deferred to District 18 Superintendent Celeste Terry who shared her District’s plan with the group. She explained that she had hired a multilingual expert in January who conducted a complete audit of District 18 classrooms to determine which professional services teachers need and which partnerships would best support students with tutoring and hands-on resources, as they vary by school. She assured the group that this is something leadership will continue to work on with the help of Central and other sources.
When asked for his take on why NYC struggles to attract black male teachers and what could be done to encourage them to become educators, the chancellor had plenty of insight to share, citing the many years he has devoted to this work. Banks said that the number of black men in teaching, investment banking and the sciences are all low. “There’s a reason for that. We don’t even do a good enough job of graduating black men from our public schools, so if you don’t graduate, you can’t even present yourself for any of these industries. Teaching is just one of them,” he explained. “Nationally, we have failed so many of our students, but black males in particular,” he said.
Banks was also asked to comment on a recent article in Forbes magazine, which stated the DOE would spend $38,000 per student next year and to advise whether or not upcoming budget cuts would hit underserved communities the hardest. “New York is facing tough economic times,” said Banks, who explained that the influx of migrant families seeking asylum, although being welcomed with open arms in New York, are followed by very few dollars in federal support, costing NYC hundreds of millions of dollars.
First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg further addressed the question. “It is a huge concern. Everybody wants to make sure their child’s school is well-funded,” he agreed. “The good news is we are spending more per child than we ever have. Yes, the mayor has talked at length, very persuasively and compellingly. We are facing big fiscal challenges and that’s why you see him tightening the budget slightly.” Weisberg said that every attempt is being made to shield schools and cut things at Central instead. “So far, we have been very successful in doing that,” he said optimistically.
Vape shops located near schools, students coming to school under the influence, upcoming capital improvements and expansions, digital learning initiatives, summer school and charter school competition versus marketing traditional public schools were all discussed at the Town Hall, which left the CEC 18 board, educators and families with much to consider.