United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew took a student awards ceremony Monday as a chance to praise the union’s partnership with the Department of Education.
“It’s nice now to have a chancellor who agrees with me when I say, when we both say, the answer to education exists in our schools and our classrooms right now,” Mulgrew said, as he helped hand out checks to student groups that had produced videos detailing how they would improve their schools if they had the money to do so.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña appeared with Mulgrew for the first time since the two announced the teacher’s contract in May, making the awards ceremony the latest in a series of statements emphasizing the strong collaboration between the city and union. Last week, Mulgrew and Fariña sent out a joint email to teachers — the second in a month — thanking them for their work and explaining a one-time bonus they would receive for ratifying the teachers contract.
At the awards ceremony, five schools received checks to make school improvements based on student-produced videos, which suggested improvements ranging from adding a weather station, purchasing new science lab equipment and replacing computers that were destroyed in Superstorm Sandy.
Students from the Richard H. Hungerford School, Chelsea Career and Technical High School, Frederick Douglass Academy III and Brooklyn Transition Center all were awarded $5,000, while students at P.S. 43 in Queens, known as the School by the Sea, took back $10,000.
Mulgrew, who doubled the prize money for all five groups at the end of the ceremony – a move he said was done on a whim – said schools are now the primary focus for both the union and education department, in contrast to the recent past when politics divided the groups.
Fariña said the contest, a public-private sector partnership launched by the Municipal Credit Union this year, was a starting point for the department to hear recommendations from students more often.
“We may also make sure that it becomes a regular part of every school’s philosophy: what do the kids want, and what do they want to leave behind,” she said.
Fariña said she was impressed that the schools had presented ideas that would benefit their neighborhoods and the future students of the school. She also asked the students at the Hungerford School to use the weather station they plan to launch to warn her when snow is coming. (This winter, Fariña drew fire for keeping schools open when it was snowy — including on a day when nearly a foot of snow fell across the city.)
Echoing Mulgrew, Fariña said students were the best way for the department to learn how to further improve schools that she said are already in good shape.
“I’m trying to figure out how do we make this broader. How do we make this something that all of New York City can do? Because I want to hear from the students, and I want to hear how you can better build on what’s already working,” she said.