The six candidates for Queens Borough president have distinct ways they want to address the education issues the borough currently faces — but they all agree that in addition to building new schools, there must be more resources distributed equally throughout the districts.
Education was the main topic at a Dec. 10 forum, which was hosted by Astoria and Long Island City nonprofit Zone 126, and moderated by NY1 reporter Rocco Vertuccio.
About three dozen people sat in the small theater space at the Variety Boys and Girls Club to hear the candidates — Councilmen Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards, and Jimmy Van Bramer, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, and retired President of the Latino Officers Association Anthony Miranda — address chronic absenteeism, charter schools, equity, diversity and inclusion, overcrowding as well as students and families dealing with temporary housing.
Vertuccio wasted no time in asking how they would combat chronic absenteeism, a national issue that’s affecting many Queens schools at alarming rates.
Constantinides not only blamed the amount of trailers in Queens for the high rate of absences, but added that another reason students are late to school or missing class altogether is due to the transportation system. He wants to have a borough-wide transportation plan that, “ensures we’re not getting what the MTA gives us, but giving the MTA a list of Queens demands to make it easier for our families to get to school every day.”
Van Bramer said that he’s learned from educators that a holistic approach to dealing with chronic absenteeism is the best way to address the issue, which includes school representatives going to the home of those students and talking to parents so that they understand what’s at stake when their child misses class.
He added that bullying can be another reason students miss school.
“As a gay child, bullying, we know, is one of the worst things that happens to children in school that makes them a lot less desiring to go to school,” Van Bramer said. “It is absolutely critical that every school community is safe, that we’re addressing bullying and any other instances of violence against children that might make them less likely to go to school.”
When Vertuccio asked about charter schools and mentioned how Success Academy has a “limited presence in Queens,” all of the candidates’ resounding response was to focus their resources to public schools that serve the whole community.
Hyndman, a self-described parent advocate, was adamant about the detrimental effects that co-locating (or sharing building space with another public school) can have on students, citing Success Academy’s current battle with the city.
“We have four charters in the 29th assembly district, of those charters two are co-located and two have their own building,” Hyndman said. “I know parents want choice … but what I don’t agree with is co-locations. In every school, in order for them to thrive, and students and leadership to feel like they’re being included, they have to have buildings where they’re standalone.”
Richards said he echoed Hyndman’s views on co-locations, but supports community charters.
“When you look at the disparities, and I know that we’ve seen in district 29, where a charter was housed in a public school, the children [who were in the public school] would feel inferior because the technology would look better or the floors would look better that housed the charter,” Richards said.
He added that he’d also ensure that every public school would get what they deserve in terms of funding, regardless of their zip code.
When Vertuccio asked how the candidates plan to make schools more equitable and diverse, the candidates had a more varied approach to addressing those issues.
Constantinides said he’d emphasize STEM classes and fight to desegregate schools; Hyndman talked about how she got rid of zoned middle and high schools when she served as president of the Community District Education Council; Crowley committed to appointing leaders who “respect diversity, transparency and equity;” Richards said he’d push for a diverse curriculum and teacher pool; and Van Bramer said that he’d give more resources to public schools that serve students who are homeless or living in temporary housing.
Miranda, who sets himself apart by being the only non-elected official in the race, focused his ideas overall on strengthening Parent-Teacher Associations, addressing overcrowding and working with the community to fix years of other “wrongdoings.”
“Students perform better when the school’s more diverse,” Miranda said. “As a parent, we’re going to look for whatever institution is available to us that provides the best education and opportunity. You can’t run from that. When we have schools where we’re housing 30 to 45 kids [in one class] then we’re housing them, not educating them.”
Although none of the candidates argued that Queens doesn’t need more schools, some did challenge the part of Vertuccio’s question about underutilized buildings in the borough.
“We absolutely need new school buildings, we could use at least 10,000 high school seats in Queens and almost 15,000 additional elementary school seats,” Crowley said. “So underutilized schools are not happening in the district that I served and is not happening in much of Queens.”