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A Seat At The Table

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Chirlane McCray, Mayor de Blasio, and Rebecca Levey

On Friday I joined some other bloggers and sat down with NYC’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife, Chirlane McCray, and my friend Rebecca Levey, who did a lot of work to help get our mayor elected. I’m thrilled to see that she still has a role now that there is real work to do.

The topic of this blogger roundtable was the mayor’s plan to make Pre-K universal in NYC for everyone who wants it, and make after school programs available for all middle schoolers.

Both of these topics are very important to me. My kids were lucky enough to get Pre-K seats at our local school, and my son – now a seventh grader – goes to a middle school with a wealth of after school choices, all for free. That’s far from the case everywhere in NYC. We’re very fortunate.

Amy with Chirlane and Bill de Blasio at City Hall

Yes, I know it’s old news, but…Bill de Blasio is TALL! (Picture courtesy of the The City of New York Mayoral Photography Office – thank you!)

But the topics we were discussing were almost secondary to the fact that we were there at all, in the Blue Room at City Hall, with our new mayor, discussing policy.

And I don’t mean in a star-struck “OMG I can’t believe I’m here!!!!” way. After twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg turning a deaf ear to public school parents in NYC, it just felt great to be listened to. Invited. Asked for our opinions and our questions.

I’ll leave the specifics of the discussion for the end of the post though – I realize that most of my readers are not in NYC. I can give the rest of you a tour of City Hall.

City Hall Is Gorgeous, Old, and Not For Eating

This was my first time in City Hall, and I was a little overwhelmed by how gorgeous it is. And historic. And marble-y. And…crumb-averse. We were offered cookies (special Gracie Mansion cookies!), but begged to please not spill anything. Food is normally not allowed in the Blue Room, but someone must have gotten the word that if you invite bloggers somewhere, you have to feed them (it’s true). As far as I could tell, we all behaved.

Rebecca and Amy at City Hall

Rebecca and me in the bullpen at City Hall (picture courtesy of Rebecca, who didn’t answer my tweet in time, but I’m assuming it’s OK!)

Rebecca and I were lucky enough to get a tour of City Hall after the meeting. There are a lot of very, very large paintings throughout the building. Seriously, they are immense. And imposing. And male. And white.

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Our last two mayors, Bloomberg and Giuliani

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Wearing white tie and tails outdoors wasn’t former NYS Governor William Seward’s only folly (and that’s really the only land acquisition joke I will ever likely make)

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Martin Van Buren: sideburns for days and days

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Seeing George Washington’s writing desk was definitely a highlight

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City Council chambers are through that door

If you’re in NYC and interested in the specifics…

There were some good questions from the bloggers.

Kim asked if the programs are going to be optional or mandatory, and the mayor confirmed that they will be optional: “This is about giving parents who really want these options the choice. There’s a huge amount of demand not being met right now.”

Serena asked about the space for these new programs. The mayor explained that existing school space plus community space will work in most cases, but in some cases the only solution is to create Pre-K centers, with city capital funds.

Of course, this brings up another problem: just because your child gets into a Pre-K program does not guarantee her a spot in that same school for kindergarten, and in a Pre-K center, continuing at that same place would not be an option at all. But at least some kids would have a spot for that important Pre-K year – it’s a step.

Adam pointed out that school nurses leave at the the end of the school day. Would middle schools be keeping someone on for the after-school portion of the day to help with kids who have special medical needs?

The mayor didn’t have a definite answer for this, but he did point to the Community Schools Model used in Cincinnati, which provides schools with services such as full-time nurses, mental health professionals, mentors, and jobs programs. Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli added that there will be a question on the middle school after school intake form asking if a child has a special health need, so that’s a start.

Liz asked how high-stakes testing will trickle down to the Pre-K kids, and the mayor’s answer was simple: “We don’t believe in high-stakes testing in the lower grades, and we’re not going to do it. The over-reliance on high-stakes testing has led us astray.”

Anna pointed out that there ARE empty seats in some existing PreK programs, and asked what would be done to support parents for whom 9-3 isn’t enough?

The mayor couldn’t really give an answer for this, but he did try to put it in some context: “Once upon a time, not that long ago, the fight was against child labor. We do have to recognize the historical arc here. As Chirlane points out, we’re still working on an agrarian calendar.” His point being that not everything can be achieved immediately.

De Blasio went on to add, “There’s been some self-congratulation in the last few years about the schools here. And I don’t buy into it. One of four graduates (not counting those who drop out) are college ready.” One in four.

“If we win the battle for pPe-K and after school here and now in NYC, all of the other doors start to open.”

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He has a big job ahead of him. I’ve seen the pluses and minuses at my kids’ schools, and while our overall experience has been positive so far, in many ways it’s been in spite of everything happening at city hall, not because of it. For the first time, I feel like I have an ally in the Mayor’s Office. It feels good.

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One Response to “A Seat At The Table”

  1. Lorette Lavine on March 10th, 2014 2:26 pm
    1

    I loved seeing the Youtube live broadcast of this meeting and wondered if this type of discussion would trickle down to other cities like Chicago. It is impressive that DeBlasio has indeed began these conversations. I wonder if he will meet with other groups of women and parents to discuss schools and education in NYC.
    Lorette Lavine recently posted..“Simply Saline”….Rescue from a ColdMy Profile

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