DOE Pledges to Involve Parents in School Co-Locations and Other Decisions

By Amy Zimmer on February 24, 2014 6:06pm 

 P.S.1 teachers and parents slammed a DOE proposal to bring a co-location to their South Bronx school at a rowdy public hearing in October 2013.
P.S.1 teachers and parents slammed a DOE proposal to bring a co-location to their South Bronx school at a rowdy public hearing in October 2013.
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DNAinfo/Alice Speri

MANHATTAN — Department of Education officials are inviting parents to get more involved in the decision-making process at schools.

Among the changes is a new working group of parents and local education officials that will review and revise the Department of Education's "Blue Book," which serves as the foundation for determining where schools should should be built and which programs should share existing buildings. The group is scheduled to hold its first meeting March 4.

"Over the last decade, communities across the city have been cut out of decision-making processes that undermined the voices of educators and families,” DOE spokesman Devon Puglia said in a statement. “That approach is now gone—and we're replacing it with one that reflects a genuine desire to engage with communities.”

School officials also promised that parents would be given ample opportunity to offer their opinions on co-location proposals.

Under current practice, families usually get one night, at a joint hearing, to voice concerns. Instead, the DOE will increase outreach to families through parent associations and school leadership teams to get a deeper sense of the impacts of sharing space. The department will also ask for recommendations to improve existing co-locations.

In another change, co-locations will now require a walkthrough and visit from senior DOE leadership.

“With new leadership that will listen, it's a new era for our system,” Puglia said. “Families and educators need to know that we're going to seek their feedback and engage with them as much as we can."

Ocynthia Williams, a public school parent from the South Bronx, who is an organizer with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, praised the moves.

“Things are looking different,” said Williams, whose group — a staunch critic of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's educational policies —  is helping with outreach by planning borough conferences in late May and early June to get families’ input on the city school system.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña met with parents from the coalition during her first week at the helm of the nation’s largest school district, Williams noted.

“I think she is very serious about changing how parent engagement has been happening in the last 12 years,” Williams said of Fariña. “She’s putting it at the forefront of her agenda so parents can be involved as deeply as they can be.”

There's still more room to improve the co-location process, said Leonie Haimson, with the advocacy group Class Size Matters.

"A senior DOE official is not enough," she said. "We have put forward many proposals to improve public and parent input into the Blue Book formula, including that the entire [school leadership team] be able to participate in the school walk-through that determines a school’s utilization rating."

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