By Naeisha Rose
With a new school year comes a new interim superintendent for School District 29.
Former Principal Leadership Facilitator Beverly Mitchell stepped into the role May 25, after the controversial exit of the previous leader, Lenon Murray, arrested for allegedly groping a 34-year-old woman who worked at PS 35 in Hollis.
During a Community District Education Council meeting July 20, Mitchell was focused on what she wanted to achieve for District 29 students, despite the lingering cloud of controversy that preceded her.
“We are not crying over spilled milk,” Mitchell said. “We are redirecting people in their thinking and just letting them know what we are about. We are a collaborative district looking to improve instruction.”
Her primary focus is finding a facilitator to replace her and naming a teacher development effectiveness coach and two parent community associate members for the district.
District 29 is comprised of 35 elementary and middle schools in the ethnically diverse middle-class southeast Queens neighborhoods of Bellerose, Briarwood, Brookville, Cambria Heights, Holliswood, Laurelton, Queens Village, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.
The teacher development coach works with principals on teacher evaluations. The parent associates split their duties. One works with parents and the president of the education council in holding workshops. The other responds to complaints made to 311 about issues in the district.
As the new superintendent Mitchell wants to bring a new era of transparency to District 29 by using social media and she wants her time as the leader to be about collaboration with educators and parents.
“People are like what are you doing in 29?” Mitchell said. “We are doing great things. We had literacy fairs, kids putting on shows, and PS 15 had a feature film that was put out.”
She wants to use Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to introduce new school policies, events and showcase what each of the schools in District 29 is doing.
While District 29 students have improved in English language arts this year, they are falling behind in math and she hopes that more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) courses will enrich those students in the future.
“We want to engage all of the elementary level students in computer science and robotics, and get all the principals to tweet out the tutorials to parents so that parents see what the kids are learning,” Mitchell said.
In September, she plans on producing a newsletter called “D29 Shine” to promote what schools are doing throughout the year.
“In the past parents and families felt like they were excluded and they didn’t feel like they were invited, or listened to when they made phone calls,” Mitchell said. “We are moving to a new era of being supportive, inviting and inclusive.”
She also wants to retain high-performing students who leave to go to better elementary or middle schools in other districts and charter schools.
“We don’t have any middle schools for the gifted and talented, so when they leave elementary school, parents are like ‘Where do you expect them to go,’” Mitchell said.
Mitchell is working with the city’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina to bring gifted and talented middle schools to District 29 in the 2018-19 school year.
When it comes to charters Mitchell does not see them as competition but sources of collaboration.
“I’m not totally against them, because the thing is how can we work together to support the kids – the students still belong to our district,” Mitchell said. “We prefer to collaborate on strategies because they might have some best practices that we can use.”
Mitchell also wants public schools to meet the needs of more students with mental disabilities, teach more English as a New Language courses, and have less punitive punishments for students who have behavioral issues by using restorative practices, which are about conversing with students about why certain actions are wrong.
Mitchell’s motto as the new superintendent is “people before programs, culture before strategy.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose