Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s District 24 town hall on March 2 proved to be much calmer and organized than District 26’s contentious education event earlier in the year — but it still had its moments.
More than 1,000 parents, students and educators attended the Department of Education’s town hall at I.S. 5 in Elmhurst, taking up the auditorium where Carranza sat with the Community Education Council (CEC) 24 members, the gym and the cafeteria, where it had to be live streamed.
The growing size of the town halls prompted CEC 24’s President Phil Wong to joke that the next town hall would “have to go to Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium.”
Carranza began with opening remarks in which he addressed the coronavirus by encouraging people to wash their hands, and told parents to keep children at home if they’re sick. He then answered several pre-written questions, with topics that ranged from school integration to safety, for one hour.
The first question of the night was on Carranza’s mission to integrate schools. A CEC member asked why they DOE is attempting to create a “one size fits all citywide approach” when D24 has 39 schools that are “working so well.” They noted that their schools are committed to retaining locally zoned schools.
Carranza said he agreed with many of the things they said about the district.
“What I’m going to, in a very friendly way, push back on is the notion that I have a plan to integrate District 24 — there is no such plan,” Carranza said. “What I have talked about is that in schools and school communities that diversity isn’t as apparent as what is being stated in the question, we should have a conversation about what it would look like to have more diverse schools. Unfortunately, not all schools everywhere are as diverse as what has been stated here today.”
When asked about specialized testing, or SHSAT, Carranza invited supporters of the practice to show him research proving it’s the best way to identify intellectually gifted children. He also called for the state and city legislature to “get out of the school board business” and repeal the Hecht-Calandra Act.
There were also many questions about school safety.
Carranza pushed back on the notion that the DOE has a “lax discipline policy” when asked about how they plan to deal with violence in schools, using the various incidents at M.S. 158 (Marie Curie) as an example.
“There is a zero tolerance for any physical abuse, zero tolerance for anything that we could consider to be breaking the law, and, believe me, we work with NYPD in those situations,” Carranza said. “But we also know that we’re an educational institution. And as an educational institution, forgive me, but we think it’s part of our job to help students learn what it’s like to be a law abiding citizen, a caring individual with those around them, to understand how they function in this society.”
Carranza said that when the DOE was informed of the various incidents in M.S. 158, central and field staff monitored the school on a daily basis, provided additional training for staff members, sent letters to the community, had several meetings with parents and met with elected officials.
Lucy Accardo, a former CEC 24 president, asked what the DOE is planning to do for D24 schools with “more than 2,000 students, but only one security guard.” Accardo mentioned that parents tend to disagree with having an armed security agent or a retired police officer, but want more security overall.
Carranza said he’s “not a supporter of making our schools look like jails.” And while he thinks the school’s security agents are doing a “phenomenal job,” he said they’re open to listening to specific cases where they need more assistance.
Success Academy made its own statement with a large group of parents and children wearing orange shirts and holding signs that read “Kids Over Politics” at the town hall. CEC 24’s President Phil Wong asked Carranza if he had any updates for them, to which the chancellor responded by saying that they’re working with SA on two temporary co-location proposals.
“We had a school site that we thought was perfect, they wouldn’t even have to co-locate but there turned out to be a number of issues,” Carranza said. “We expect to post proposals later this week. I just want to assure Success Academy parents, staff and students, that we hear you and we’re engaging with you.”
Although the town hall was fairly organized, there was a brief moment toward the beginning of the meeting in which Dao Yin, a candidate for Queens Borough President, stood up and addressed Carranza before walking out of the auditorium.
Yin told QNS that he left because he felt Carranza was “showing off.”
“The chancellor needs to listen to different voices and not show off,” Yin said. “It’s a serious community education meeting, not anybody’s showtime.”
Wong told QNS that Carranza discussed many pressing issues in District 24’s community, including maintaining Gifted and Talented programs, overcrowding, grade fraud, GPS-installed school buses, tracking students on school buses, saving MTA bus routes targeted for elimination, and cronyism in IS 5.
“I personally, and the entire CEC 24, will keep following-up with Chancellor Carranza and the Department of Education and seek action to the above issues,” Wong said. “CEC 24 strives to represent the parents of our district and resolve problems in our district’s schools. Simultaneously, we are actively seeking solutions to city-wide school problems that are decades in the making.”