hellos and goodbyes

Bronx borough prez sends familiar face to citywide school board

The Panel for Educational Policy has a new Bronx borough representative, and she’ll be a familiar face for many city officials.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has appointed Monica Major to the board, Diaz’s office announced today. Major is the current vice president — and former president — of Community Education Council 11, one of the Bronx’s parent committees. She was also a member of the Parent Commission on Mayoral Control, a group that advocated last year for reducing the mayor’s power over the PEP, which acts as the citywide school board.

Major replaces Anna Santos, who has served as the Bronx representative since February 2009. Last year, Santos emerged as one of the city’s most outspoken critics on the board, alongside Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan. It’s not clear why Santos is leaving.

Major is likely to continue the trend of opposition to many city policies that come up for approval. As part of the Parent Commission on Mayoral Control, Major proposed to reduce the number of mayoral appointees on the panel to three, and add six parent representatives to the board. Instead, the school governance legislation that Albany passed provided for eight mayoral appointees and one from each borough president, effectively guaranteeing that the board will approve city initiatives.

BOROUGH PRESIDENT DIAZ NAMES MONICA MAJOR AS BRONX REP TO PANEL FOR EDUCATION POLICY

Today, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced the appointment of Monica Major as his representative to the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), which holds approval power over the actions of the New York City Department of Education.

A Morris Park resident and lifelong Bronxite, Ms. Major is a former president of the Community Education Council of School District #11 (CEC), and served as its vice president until her appointment to the PEP. Prior to serving on CEC #11, Ms. Major was a member of the Parent Commission on Mayoral Control, a grassroots, parent-led organization that advocated on the issue of school control. In addition to currently serving as a member of the school leadership team at P.S. 121-The Throop School, Ms. Major is a lifelong advocate on education issues.

Prior to being appointed to the PEP, Ms. Major had already worked with Borough President Diaz on issues such as increasing gifted and talented programs, school zoning, and ongoing issues regarding testing and student achievement.

Ms. Major currently works as a software trainer and certified mediator with the New York State Homes and Community Renewal.

“I have known Monica Major to be a fierce advocate for the needs of Bronx children since before I came to Borough Hall, and I am thrilled that she will now be a part of our team. We have a great deal of work to do to improve our borough’s public schools, and I know Monica will be a strong ally to both myself and the 1.4 million residents of the Bronx,” said Borough President Diaz.

“I love advocating for both parents and students, and I look forward to helping our schools move forward and improving the education of children in the Bronx and throughout the City. I am proud to be working with Borough President Diaz to craft his education agenda, and I look forward to hearing from parents, educators, and the public over the next few months on what can be done to improve our public school system,” said Ms. Major.

Ms. Major replaces Anna Santos, who stepped down from the PEP this week after having served admirably in that position since February 2009.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.