Earlier this month, voters elected Eric Adams mayor of New York City. This historic moment cannot be understated, as Mayor-elect Adams will be our city’s second Black mayor. At the same time, Black leaders of government have had the burden of “fixing everything” on their shoulders. Mayor-elect Adams’ shoulders will also bear this burden. We are hopeful he will be more than a mayor who talks and doesn’t deliver.
After eight years of promises from a self proclaimed “progressive” administration to end the “tale of two cities,” we have seen how a lack of urgency, plans, and commitment from outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio has stifled the critical work of addressing racial inequities. The devastation of COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of our great city, and our public schools, particularly those serving low-income, Black, Brown and immigrant children, have felt the impacts of this devastation firsthand.
The Adams administration’s education success will be judged by the real commitments it makes to support our most marginalized students, including those who are Black, Latinx, immigrant, refugee, low-income, living in transitional housing, English Language Learners, LGBTQIA, and learning with disabilities, and how it prioritizes cultivating nurturing environments where they can thrive by following through and delivering outcomes.
For decades, we have worked together, slowly chipping away at long-entrenched, harmful policies and structures to push our public education system to adequately serve all of our students. The Alliance for Quality Education this year won a historic commitment from NYS to fully fund $4B in foundation aid to public schools. I (Zakiyah) was a parent volunteer when that fight began 20 years ago and currently serve as the advocacy director. I (Vanessa) am the co-executive director of the Coalition for American Children and Families (CACF), which advocates for equity and opportunity for those most marginalized across the diverse Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, focusing on dismantling the damaging model minority myth. I am also the chair of the Panel for Education Policy, and a public school parent.
We have stayed committed through administrations and chancellors, shifts in structures and priorities, and seen endeavors succeed, go wrong, or be set up to fail. For example, as members of the New York City Council’s Middle School Taskforce, we worked in collaboration with the NYC DOE and private funders and launched the Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI), an instructional intervention for improving literacy levels in NYC middle schools. As a successful partnership between elected officials, the NYC DOE, and community leaders, this model should be replicated.
As such, we refuse to be siloed in the fight to improve our education system––we are at our best when we are in community. Recently, we partnered as members of New Yorkers for Racially Just Public Schools (RJPS), a grassroots coalition working to ensure that city and state education budget and policy decisions regarding schooling are centered on racial and educational justice. Our collective is united on a set of core beliefs, grounded in empathy and our full humanity: every New York City student deserves an education that is high-quality, transformative, culturally responsive, and diverse, providing tools and opportunities for all students to equitably participate in democracy, enter the workforce, and ultimately reach their fullest potential.
RJPS previously released a broad and comprehensive agenda for racially just schools, and now, we invite Mayor-elect Eric Adams and the next chancellor to consider our Bold Vision for Quality Education. Our vision coupled with the billions in pandemic relief dollars we received from the federal government can transform our schools.
We have the opportunity to build a public school system that puts the needs of students it has historically marginalized first in all decisions, defining their well-being and success as the measure of its strength. Indeed, we know our own children and grandchildren’s success in our public schools is inherently linked to the system’s success––and, crucially, the system cannot be deemed successful if it continues to neglect our most marginalized students.
As we move towards an Adams administration, we are ready to collaborate where there is alignment around his education goals, yet we remain committed and ready to hold this administration accountable alongside our allies: the way we have for decades past.
Zakiyah Ansari is the advocacy director of the New York State Alliance for Quality Education (AQE). Vanessa Leung is the co-executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) and chair of the Panel for Education Policy.