With much fanfare last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a $150 million plan to fix 94 of the city’s lowest performing public schools.
In a speech before scores of concerned parents and educators, de Blasio announced the School Renewal Program, an extensive, multifaceted initiative that he said will transform each of the 94 struggling schools into “community schools,” a socialized model of academia that emphasizes the importance of a student’s physical and emotional well-being, in addition to offering services for the underserved, including food pantries, English-language instruction and accessible mental health care available to whole families. All of this is, of course, supplemented with generalized academic aid.
“Our schools were created in a vastly different era, when families did not always need two incomes, when most women did not work outside the home, when high school was meant to prepare many graduates for factory jobs and unskilled labor. We cannot expect a model created in the 1800s to deliver a 21st century education. Community schools are designed for us, here and now,” said de Blasio.
“Today marks an unprecedented commitment to deliver for our schools that need extra support, and I know this will translate into real improvements in student outcomes,” added Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina. “I’m determined to get this right.”
According to the mayor, the initial multimillion-dollar investment will imbue public schools with the tools necessary to foster a rigorous academic environment. In addition to the increased programs for parents mentioned above, the initiative also outlines plans to extend the hours of instruction, as well as an expansion of after-school, weekend and summer scholarship as needed. Perhaps overhearing the collective groans of public school students following this news, de Blasio stated, “I know that will make a lot of students unhappy, but there’s no way, no better way, to get students on the right track, to help them overcome the challenges, than putting them in the classroom with a capable teacher longer each day—this is the difference-maker.”
Though the plan is in sharp contradiction with the Bloomberg era approach of abruptly shuttering underperforming schools—according to WNYC, more than 160 New York City public schools have closed or are scheduled to be closed under Bloomberg’s 12-year administration—the mayor made it very clear that additional closures may become a reality down the line.
“We will literally move heaven and earth to help them succeed, but we will not wait forever. If we do not see improvement after three years—and after all of these reforms and new resources—we will close any schools that don’t measure up,” de Blasio said. “It’s that simple.”
In the immediate days after the announcement, many in the public sector have publicly praised the de Blasio administration for what they consider to be a “radical step” in the right direction. One such accolade came from Rep. Charles Rangel, who applauded de Blasio’s “unparalleled commitment to improving education for every student in our great city.”
And yet, despite the fact that droves of politicians are lining up to stamp the School Renewal Program with their individual seals of approval, many others still remain skeptical.
“Throwing money at the issue isn’t going to fix the problem,” said Sam Anderson, an education activist and social justice pioneer. “[Most of] the money is just going to high-tech corporations to razzle-dazzle people. What these schools need is direct parental, teacher involvement, not corporate interlopers with fancy gear.” When asked about the abundance of social services this program is poised to bring in, Anderson asked incredulously, “How much money is actually going to these services? And more importantly, who are they bringing in?”
Among the 94 schools this program targets, 43 are in the Bronx, 27 are in Brooklyn, 12 are in Manhattan,and 12 are in Queens. All were identified by the state as “Priority” or “Focus” schools, demonstrating low academic achievement for each of the past three years and ranking in the bottom 25 percent of city schools on core subject exam scores, according to the city.