stump speech

At rooftop garden party, 2013 candidates tout budding principal

From left, Christine Quinn, Kelly Shannon, Scott Stringer and Vicki Sando, founder of the Greenroon Environmental Literacy Laboratory, and state Senator Tom Duane.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are likely in for a year of confrontation as they prepare for their prospective mayoral bids.

But on Friday morning at the opening of P.S. 41’s new 7,000 square foot rooftop garden, they were happy to agree on one thing.

“We agree that you’d be on any mayor’s short list for chancellor,” Stringer said to P.S. 41’s principal Kelly Shannon during a speech in the Greenwich Village elementary school’s gymnasium.

The Democratic primary is still a year away, making serious contenders unlikely to make any declarative statements on education or anything else. But who a mayor considers — and eventually selects — to be his or her chancellor is one of the most telling hints for how a candidate plans to guide education policy, which is shaping up to be a defining issue in the race.

“There are two major decisions the next mayor’s going to make in this town. The first is, who’s gonna be the police commissioner? And then who’s gonna be the schools chancellor?” Stringer said.

Stringer later clarified that his comments were meant to be more of a reflection of Shannon’s ability to run a school and coordinate a large scale project that took six years and cost more than $1.5 million to complete than an indication of who he’d pick to run the school system if he were elected mayor.

But he still praised her abilities as principal. “The skill set that she demonstrates is really a skill set that we should look at for whoever the next chancellor may be,” said Stringer, who combined with Quinn contributed $1.3 million to the project.

The garden party eventually moved upstairs to the converted roof, which is now home to more than two dozen species of plants, solar paneling to fuel rooftop electricity and a water fountain that runs only when the sun is out. The roof, called the Greenroof Environmental Literacy Laboratory, opened last week for students, who teachers said would use it to enhance learning units on solar energy, plant biology and the scientific method.

When asked to discuss what they considered important qualities for a schools chancellor to have, Stringer and Quinn agreed again. Both said an extensive education background was important, but neither would say it was absolutely necessary.

“I think there are a lot of different kinds of folks who can bring a lot to our education system,” Quinn said.

There isn’t much precedent in New York City for schools chancellor appointment since control of the system was moved under the mayor’s office. Bloomberg’s shortlist in 2002 consisted of just one person with an extensive background in education, then-Cleveland schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, according to the Daily News at the time. Byrd-Bennett, now second-in-charge below Jean-Claude Brizard in Chicago, was then-Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott’s pick, but the job ultimately went to Joel Klein, a lawyer with business experience.

Bloomberg’s two succeeding chancellors, Cathie Black and Dennis Walcott, had barely any experience working in schools.

James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University, said he believed that both classroom and management experience were important for the job. But “the most important factor for success will be the capacity to attract a leadership team that brings all of these skills to the task,” he said.

For her part, Shannon didn’t shy from the flattery and said she was honored to be mentioned. But she said as a veteran teacher and principal who has worked for 18 years in the school system, “experience is important.”

“You have to remember to bring it back to the people who are living on the front every single day,” Shannon added. “Make sure their voices are heard.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.