In the quiet neighborhood around Bronx Latin, residents had no clue Tuesday that Mayor Bill de Blasio was inside the high-performing public school preparing for a major education speech he would deliver there the following morning.
But, when asked, they had plenty of thoughts about what they’d like to hear the mayor say.
They wanted him to attend to perennial concerns like crowded classrooms and outdated textbooks, and to deliver on promises like more after-school programs and better-trained teachers. Several of the parents and students interviewed in the Longwood section of the South Bronx have ties to both charter and district schools, so many said they wanted the mayor to signal his support of both types of schools by fostering more cooperation among them.
And while many praised the mayor’s signature education initiative — his vast expansion of free, full-day pre-kindergarten — they also wondered how he plans help the many older students whose troubles at home or experiences at school have caused them to fall behind.
“Yes, you have to have a strong foundation,” said Toya Guy, 32, who has students in P.S. 146 as well as Success Academy Bronx 3 Charter School, and who commended the pre-K expansion. “But what about the children who are there already who didn’t have a strong foundation?”
De Blasio’s speech will offer some answers to that question, according to previews that City Hall provided to some media outlets Tuesday.
For instance, the city will hire reading specialists to make sure all elementary school students can read materials at their grade level, and will add more Advanced Placement classes in high schools, according to an Associated Press report. It will also require all schools to eventually offer computer-science instruction, according to the New York Times.
But if the mayor plans to announce some buzzworthy initiatives, many Bronx residents said they’re still waiting for the basics in a borough that — as in years past — fared far worse than any other on this year’s state exams.
Amari Rolle, an eighth-grade student at Accion Academy, a district middle school in the Tremont section, said his teachers often struggle to manage the many students packed into their classrooms, which never seem to have enough textbooks or computers.
“We’re always sharing,” he said.
Strong teachers can be found in every school, including those in the Bronx, several people said. Yet so can educators who seem under-prepared or ill-suited for the job.
The South Bronx has more new teachers and higher teacher turnover than most parts of the city. And it has the largest share of struggling schools in the city’s Renewal turnaround program (43 of the program’s 94 schools are in the Bronx) — schools where teachers are twice as likely to have received low ratings.
“Poor neighborhoods like ours get the worst teachers,” said David Rodriguez, a graduate of the Bronx’s recently closed Samuel Gompers High School, who is field director of the United Hispanic Construction Workers, a local nonprofit. “Therefore, we get the worst education.”
Among those who lauded de Blasio’s pre-K push was Silvia Castialli, a 23-year-old medical assistant who said it will let her work a full day while her daughter, Rose, begins learning to read and write.
The city’s plan for helping older students was less clear to others, such as Daiquan Feimster. He attended the now-defunct New Day Academy, a small high school that shared a building with Bronx Latin for the eight years it operated. He said the school, which was both launched and shuttered under former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, showed how that mayor’s approach had failed some students.
He said de Blasio must now do more to make sure all students leave the city’s high schools ready for college. Feimster, 21, said he has tried taking classes at a few local colleges, but it has exposed glaring holes in his education — such as an inability to write research papers.
In his senior English class, “what we did was fill-in-the-blank packets,” he said. “I really wasn’t prepared.”
The mayor isn’t expected to announce any major new policies involving charter schools in his speech, according to news reports, even though the building where he will deliver it also houses the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School. That school was in session Tuesday, so the mayor spoke briefly with its principal, Richard Burke, before heading to the auditorium to rehearse his address.
According to Burke, his school gets along well with Bronx Latin and the other district high school in the building, Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School. An apt symbol of that cooperation is Gail Gadsden, the charter school’s parent liaison whose son attends Bronx Career & College Prep. She said advocates on both sides of the charter-district debate have turned on one another rather than joining forces to improve public education.
“And it shouldn’t be that way,” said Gadsden, known by many in the school as “Mama G.” “All schools should be great schools.”