CEC 26 superintendent candidates talk school safety, community involvement and more during virtual town hall

CEC 26 virtual superintendent candidates
Photo via Getty Images

The Community District Education Council (CEC) 26 held a virtual town hall for the district’s superintendent candidates to speak on Thursday, May 26.

Incumbent superintendent Danielle Giunta and MS 358 principal Brendan Mims discussed their qualifications and how they would approach role, factoring in the increased power it has been given.

Some of the topics discussed by the candidates were school safety, community involvement, special and higher education classes and technology integration. Each candidate often touched upon their own experiences when answering questions.

Giunta was born, raised and educated in New York City’s 26th district. She has spent 25 years serving the New York City Department of Education. Under her tenure as the 26th district’s superintendent, there have been six National Blue Ribbons received by schools there.

Mims’ mother worked as a teacher in New York City for 34 years. He spent time working as an earth science teacher, dean and assistant principal at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn. In 2015, Mims was named the founding principal of MS 358: the Magnet School for S.T.E.A.M. Exploration and Experiential Learning.

According to Giunta, the work she has done as the district’s superintendent over the last eight years has provided much-needed experience for the position and reflects well on the job she’s done. When addressing community involvement, Giunta said parent and community leaders can and will influence policies by providing feedback. In addition to public hearings like the CEC meetings, which grant the community the opportunity to help influence policies, Giunta said she intends to expand the superintendent’s team in order to collect more feedback.

Mims said community involvement starts with listening to what the parents have to say. He added that he’d explore new ways to engage parents that aren’t typically heard from. In addition to continuing virtual meetings in order to make parent participation easier, Mims said he would frequently send out newsletter and email communications and have the district be active on social media to stay informed with the community.

Giunta drew upon her experience acting as the district’s superintendent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when addressing school safety. According to Giunta, this experience has helped sharpen her leadership approach. She also revealed that she had been talking with school leaders across the district the previous day, brainstorming how to act in the event of an emergency and taking steps to address any warning signs that could lead to potential violence.

“Communication and connection is key,” Giunta said. We need to check in with each other. Coming together and planning forward is most important.”

Mims touched upon his experience ensuring safety and security in his school as the principal. He said it’s very important to be proactive and educate both students and staff members about being respectful of each other. He also stressed the importance of capable guidance counselors who would be able to identify and assist students before they turn to violence. He also addressed gun violence in the wake of the shooting at a Texas elementary school.

“Violence in schools should never happen,” Mims said. “Guns and schools shouldn’t even be uttered in the same sentence.”

After the district suspended the middle schools’ accelerated programs during the pandemic, Giunta said she was hesitant to reopen it so soon since students have still performed exceptionally well. She cited the district’s regents scores of over 900 students.

“We had a 98% pass rate on the regents of algebra, earth science and environmental science,” Giunta said. “We still have strong structures and practices across the district to ensure a high quality of teaching.”

Mims, on the other hand, felt it is very important for the district to find new programs to continue pushing the advanced learning students, as they present opportunities for higher learning. However, he said he would first engage with the community about continuing the accelerated learning programs.

When discussing supporting students in special education, Giunta emphasized the need to provide each student with the tools they need based on the information the school has on them. She also emphasized the importance of having high-quality special education teachers who can assist the students.

Mims emphasized that students in special education should have access to the same experiences as other students, including arts programs and computer sciences. He also felt that having teachers capable of assessing students’ needs could help push them further along.

“Special education is not a location, it’s a service,” Mims said. “We need to ensure these students receive those services.”

In discussing integrating technology with the school curriculum, Giunta said she helped identify a vision and model for the district’s computer sciences, aligning professional learning around it and making sure each school has at least two teachers who are experts in computer science.

Mims noted that M.S. 358 has been using technology in its classes since its founding. In addition to having electronic grade books available, each student received their own data website this school year. The site includes pre-test information and benchmark information and provides the students with the opportunity to reflect on core values.

More from Around New York