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Bronx Parents Start School Year by Recruiting for School Reform Campaign

By Patrick Wall | September 9, 2013 9:02am
 Members of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee will recruit outside Bronx District 9 schools.
Parent Action Committee
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HIGHBRIDGE — While children frantically filled out long-forgotten summer homework packets last week, a few Bronx parents crammed for the coming school year too — by brushing up on their community organizing skills.

Several members of a parent group devoted to reforming the Bronx’s long-struggling District 9 met Thursday to rehearse their pitches to fellow parents ahead of a back-to-school recruitment effort.

When an organizer asked what could be said if a parent claims his or her child’s school is satisfactory, P.S. 64 parent Lester Grant was ready with a response.

“We’re not just talking about one school — we’re talking about a district,” he thundered. “We’re not just talking about one child — we’re talking about a generation.”

Starting Monday morning, about 15 members of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, or PAC, plan to be posted outside District 9 schools for the next two weeks, where they will ask other parents to join them in calling for an official district-wide improvement plan.

The group, which local parents founded in 1996, has focused for the past two years on overhauling the district, which is one of the city’s lowest performing.

For example, while 35 percent of the city’s fourth-graders passed the state math exams this year, only 14 percent of District 9 fourth-graders did. And in English, the city's fourth-grade pass rate was 27 percent, while in District 9 it was just more than 10 percent.

Over the summer, PAC members collected signatures on a petition demanding that the Department of Education work with parents, students and schools to craft the improvement plan.

P.S. 35 parent Angel Courtenay took the petition to the library, the YMCA, her doctor’s office, even her daughter’s grade-school graduation.

“Parents jumped up and said, ‘Let me sign it!’” Courtenay said.

The group has already collected more than 500 signatures, with a goal of 1,000 by October, when they will deliver the petitions to the DOE and release a report about the district. The DOE did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The members at Thursday’s outreach training described a slew of District 9 woes, from chaotic classrooms, to students not getting enough homework, to overcrowding.

Grant, the P.S. 64 parent, said that he had complained to the school for months that his third-grade son was being bullied, but never saw the administration take action.

“I got no results,” he said. “I had no voice whatsoever.”

P.S. 64 is being phased out by the DOE because of low performance.

As the PAC members committed Thursday to reach out to a total of 300 new parents and invite them to a group meeting on Sept. 26, they prepared for potential pushback.

Parents might say they are too busy to join or that organizing won’t change anything, the group decided.

Rosemarisse Charles, who joined the PAC even though her two grandchildren attend charter schools in different Bronx districts, said she knew what she would tell reluctant parents.

"We all have to come together so our children get the best possible education," she said. “If we don’t get involved, whose child will be the next president?”