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District 9 Parents Call on Next Administration to Address School Needs

By Alice Speri | December 11, 2013 5:38pm

MOUNT EDEN - Last year, nine out of 10 students in District 9 failed their English language exams. Half of the elementary and middle schools in the district were on state improvement lists — an indicator that they are lagging behind — and only 10 percent of the district’s students graduated ready for college.

These are just some of the complaints parents presented in a report highlighting what they labeled “persistent educational failure” in the district, which includes the Grand Concourse, Morrisania and Tremont, and calling for a community-based approach to education in the district.

“Not one person or entity has taken any responsibility in addressing the issue,” said Lynn Sanchez, who presented the report at a public meeting last Friday. “They have left District 9 to stink, basically. We’re the last of the list.”

Sanchez said she moved her two children to schools outside the district because of the poor state of education there, but remained involved with efforts to turn the area’s schools around.

“District 9 is smack in the middle of the poorest congressional district in the nation, so we have kids that don’t know when they'll have their next meal, and the highest number of students who live in transitional housing,” she said, adding that she is very hopeful the next administration will listen to parents’ concerns. “We want realistic plans, benchmark plans so that folks can go back and say ‘ok, we have reached this goals.’”

The proposal calls for community-integrated schools, providing health and family services in addition to a better-quality education.

The New Settlement Parent Action Committee, a group of parents and community members fighting to close the achievement gap in one of the city’s lowest performing districts, prepared the 20-page document. They hope it will provide a roadmap for the next administration, which is set to appoint a new schools chancellor soon.

The group prepared a list of recommendations for Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on a promise to turn around struggling schools in the city, and asked him to reverse the policies of his predecessor. They plan to meet with him early next year.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera and other local officials supported the group's efforts. 

"It is unacceptable that the children of District 9, and other low performing school districts, have not been given the adequate resources to improve the quality of education they are receiving, ultimately leading to an increase in our achievement gap," Rivera said in a statement. "This new administration gives us all the opportunity to create a system that better addresses the often ignored concerns of educators, parents and students."  

Harry Hartfield, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Education said District 9 has shown progress, including a 65 percent increase in the graduation rate since 2005.

“Over the last decade, we’ve achieved historic results across the city - graduation rates are sky-high, drop-out rates have plummeted, and more students are college-ready than ever before. That progress includes District 9, where we’ve made great strides,” Hartfield said. “The reforms we’ve enacted have worked. But as always, we have more work to do.”

But parents and community leaders called for more community inclusion in decisions concerning local schools, more resources allocated to teacher development and retention, and efforts to boost language learning in an area where one in four students is not proficient in English, according to the report.

Nelson Mar, an education lawyer with Bronx Legal Services who has been working with parents and students in the district for 15 years also attended the meeting.

“This has been ongoing, not much has changed in the past 10 years,” he said. 

Mar said that poverty is the single greatest obstacle to educational achievement in the area, and while he acknowledged there is only so much schools can do to alleviate it, he said that the community school model proposed by parents is “one step in the right direction.”

“It's about creating a more supportive environment in the schools, bringing social services in to address the multitude of needs that low income students have,” Mar said.

“Schools can’t be expected to do it all, but at the same time they are a vital resource in the community; if there's a place to start it should be the school.”