Back to school

De Blasio kicks off school year with pre-K praise; acknowledges school diversity concerns

PHOTO: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits PS 9, The Sarah Anderson School, on the Upper West Side on Wednesday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off the school year by touting the city’s universal pre-K program, expressing concern about school diversity, and promising to unveil more education policy changes in September.

The mayor’s two press conferences on Wednesday served as celebrations and kickoff events, as city officials marked the second year of de Blasio’s signature pre-kindergarten expansion and the start of a number of ambitious education initiatives. De Blasio also told reporters that fresh ideas were coming soon, saying the city was weighing its options for addressing school diversity and hinting at other announcements that could affect middle and high schools.

At P.S. 9 on the Upper West Side, de Blasio expressed concern about a lack of diversity at many schools across New York, which became a hot topic after a UCLA report last year found that New York City’s schools are among the most racially segregated in the country. However, the mayor stopped short of suggesting policy remedies.

“I believe we have a long history that we’re trying to overcome in this city and in this country of division,” de Blasio said. “We want to be creative. We want to see if there’s other ways we can further this work, because it really is historic and necessary work. But we also don’t have, you know, the perfect solution yet.”

Earlier in the day at P.S. 59, an elementary school in Staten Island, Chancellor Carmen Farina answered a similar question about a recent Chalkbeat story by saying that school diversity comes in many forms, including English language learners and special-education students. The city’s 40 new dual language programs, she said, place children who speak English with those who speak another language, promoting diversity.

She discussed the possibility of working with parents to create “sister schools” and said that there will be more to come from the city on the topic.

De Blasio dropped a few hints of his own, promising announcements aimed at middle schools and increasing college readiness this fall.

As for specifics, “You’ll be hearing more about that in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

De Blasio also visited P.S. 59, where he highlighted New York’s commitment to offering free, full-day, pre-K for every child who wants a spot. So far, 65,504 children are registered for the program.

De Blasio heralded Wednesday’s rollout as “a moment in history.”

“We’ve heard the phrase universal pre-K talked about for a generation,” de Blasio said, “but it was never really true until today.”

He said that his ability to create universal pre-K should work in his favor as he tries to seek mayoral control from the state this year. Last year, de Blasio was granted just one year of mayoral control — which means that he will have to make his case again this coming spring.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.