BY PIA KOH
For the past two decades, City Council Candidate Latanya Collins has made a name for herself in education. Now, she hopes to bring her expertise to City Council District 31, where lack of educational resources and opportunities, she believes, are at the heart of many of the district’s problems.
Collins, a public school teacher who grew up in military-based housing along the Chesapeake Bay, moved to New York over 20 years ago. She’s running in the crowded District 31 special election to replace now-Queens Borough President Donovan Richardson the council representing Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale and Springfield Gardens.
When she first moved to the city, Collins worked as a New York City teaching fellow focused on what she called “culturally responsive education,” or learning about how a student’s environment contributes to their ability to perform well. This is where she began examining the correlation between education and the criminal justice system. The school-to-prison pipeline, as she referred to it, is all too apparent in her community, she said.
“It really hit home for me,” she said. “I decided to dedicate my entire life to that.”
Collins went on to earn three master’s degrees: one in public policy, one in school district leadership, and another in education. Now, she said, she wants to put her education and experience toward being the voice that pushes for large-scale education reform.
“I’ve taught on Rikers Island. I’ve taught in special programs for children in foster care,” she said. “They deserve the same thing, across the board, as students in an affluent district.”
Among her policies surrounding education, Collins said she would prioritize technology in the classroom, and ensure that every student has the device and broadband connection that they need.
“Just like in a brick and mortar school, where every child has a seat, remotely, every child needs to have a device. We need to look at it that way,” she said.
She wants to place an emphasis on extracurricular activities in public schools, she said.
“Across the district, our schools need to equally have recreational programs. We need to see more art in the school, more music, we need to see more sports opportunities for schools to work,” she said.
Collins wants to concentrate on special education by establishing partnerships with small businesses so that students with disabilities are connected to job opportunities or equipped with the experience they need by the time they graduate.
She has a specific view of what school reforms should look like, she said.
“It looks like decriminalization of our schools and taking the police out of them, and adding more restorative justice programs to really build our children up,” she said. “I see the beauty in our community across the city, and I want the same positive outlook and framework for every child regardless of what their district is.”
Aside from education reforms, Collins said she is hopeful about improving the sustainability of City Council District 31. In addition to adding urban farms and heightening the quality of produce being brought into the area, Collins wants to focus on reducing the air pollution that’s emitted by the neighboring JFK International Airport. Especially in the face of COVID-19, a respiratory virus, Collins said it’s imperative to mitigate the toxins that are being released into the district’s air.
Collins is also eager to protect certain parts of southern Queens that are used as dumping grounds, such as Brookville Boulevard and its surrounding wetlands.
“People dump sofas and refrigerators and tires and construction materials there, and I want to see that taken care of,” she said.
Growing up around the wetlands of Chesapeake Bay, Collins said, gave her a model for what the wetlands in her district can aspire to.
“I’ve seen it, and I want it for my district,” she said.
Almost a year into the pandemic and still struggling to keep up with healthcare demands, Collins said City Council District 31 needs to improve its hospital system. Not only does the district have problems with poor sanitation and air pollution, but it also lacks sufficient hospitals to manage those who need care. There’s only one hospital in the district, which she said is not fully equipped with PPE and other necessities that a hospital should have. And, in the case of trauma, residents need to make the 35 minute drive to Jamaica Hospital. That can be a matter of life and death, she said.
“We need to focus on these issues. We can’t gloss over them and put up things like benches and tennis courts when people are dying, where they don’t have access to what they need. There’s a lack of equity in this district and I’m going to speak to that,” she said.
Within the district, Collins said that certain neighborhoods often go overlooked. And with equity as her ultimate goal, she said she would serve the entirety of the community if elected. Right now, residents need someone who really knows the district, she said.
“We need that level of well-roundedness, we need a strong voice to be that person in City Hall,” she said. “I have the knowledge, the skills and the ability to really serve my community in a big way.”
This story originally appeared on QNS’ sister site QueensCountyPolitics.com.