Class was in session for Mayor Bill de Blasio in Jackson Heights Thursday night.
Parents, teachers, students and local organizations filled the auditorium of P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights to quiz the mayor about the future of New York City’s public education system during an education town hall meeting.
Fielding questions alongside the mayor were Councilman Daniel Dromm —a former public school teacher and the current chair of the City Council’s education committee— and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
De Blasio has made education a prime focus since taking office. This September, his Pre-K for All program added thousands of full-day universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K) seats across the city, giving children access to good teachers and early education programs.
“One of my passions is pre-K. We’re very proud of what’ve done. Let me tell you what its meant right here,” de Blasio said. “In District 30, when we came in, [there were] 409 full-day pre-K seats. There are now 2,762 full-day pre-K seats. In Danny Dromm’s Council District (Distrtict 25) … when we came in 58 full-day pre-K seats, today 1,466 full-day pre-K seats.”
Meeting attendees asked de Blasio questions on the issues of school overcrowding and the need for technology in public schools, among other important topics.
“I laid out a vision of how we’re going to change the school system overall, the whole school system; update it, change it for the better for the long term. Because we have to acknowledge that for many years a lot of things weren’t working,” de Blasio said. “We need a school system led by an educator, we need to focus on kids and not high-stakes testing, we need to run schools as schools and not corporations. All of that is necessary to make a change.”
District 30 is one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city, with many students being forced to attend classes inside of trailers, leading to student, teacher and parent frustrations.
“This is one of the epicenters of overcrowding in the city,” de Blasio said of District 30. “Over the next five years we are putting almost $3.5 billion into building new capacity all over the city. What it means for District 30 is 1,500 new seats coming, what it means for District 24 is 3,400 new seats. So real investments are being made in terms of overcrowding.”
“Right now we have a $490 million, almost half a billion dollar, initiative over the next five years and most of the money is focused on replacing trailers with permanent facilities,” the mayor added.
As part of the mayor’s Equity and Excellence in Education plan, every student in each grade level will receive computer science education.
“[The tech sector] is a great, growing part of our economy with high paying jobs. That’s what we want for our children,” de Blasio said. “Well, if we want them to get that, they need the kind of education that will get them ready. So they should get the opportunity to experience computer science throughout their entire education so they are ready.”
De Blasio announced that this is just the beginning for education reform and he has many more initiatives and plans for the future, focused on bringing the public school system up to the standards expected by parents, students and teachers.