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Want a Greater Say in Your Neighborhood’s Public Schools? Now’s Your Chance

By Amy Zimmer | January 10, 2017 8:43am
 District 16 Superintendent Evelyn Santiago joined principals, parents and elected officials in Bed-Stuy to discuss the state of education in central Brooklyn.
District 16 Superintendent Evelyn Santiago joined principals, parents and elected officials in Bed-Stuy to discuss the state of education in central Brooklyn.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

MANHATTAN — If you want a bigger voice in educational decisions for the city's public schools, now’s your chance to get a seat at the table.

The Department of Education kicked off a campaign Tuesday encouraging parents to run for Community Education Councils, as well as Citywide Education Councils. Applications for the 2017 election cycle open on Feb. 9 for 325 seats.

Elections are held every two years.

Members of CECs work on a variety of important decisions, including approving school zoning lines, holding hearings on the DOE’s annual capital plan, evaluating the superintendents and providing input on instructional and policy issues.

“Our hope is that more and more parents participate in the process,” said Yolanda Torres, executive superintendent of the DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement. “We want to make sure that no matter the language they speak, where they live, where they come from, that they have the right to participate. We want to ensure this process has a long lasting impact on communities.”

The DOE has expanded interpretation services at CEC meetings, which are open to the public and are often held every month at various schools across the district. The councils also hold meetings with Parent Teacher Association officers and provide assistance to School Leadership Teams.

There are 32 Community Education Councils and four Citywide Education Councils, which include the Citywide Council on High Schools, the Citywide Council on English Language Learners, the Citywide Council on Special Education, and the Citywide Council for District 75.

Raise Your Hand | 2017 from NYC Public Schools on Vimeo.

“It’s about a collaboration with the Department of Education,” Torres said about the councils. “We want to make sure that parents are at the forefront of the conversation and given the opportunity to advocate for their communities and understand that we value their voices and insights.”

Noah Gotbaum, an Upper West Side dad who has served for more than 7 years on the CEC for District 3 — which has seen some contentions rezonings of late — believes the councils serve as vehicles in filling an “enormous power vacuum” for public school parents and kids.

“Roughly one in 3 New Yorkers is a public school parent or student, yet these 2.5 million have no other formal representation, and few other informal outlets to make their voices heard,” Gotbaum said. “I'll be the first to admit that CECs don't have much formal power — other than the contentious zoning approval rights of the CECs —  but the Councils can be an important bully pulpit if used to organize parents. And a number of CECs across the city are doing so.”

The CECs for the Lower East Side/East Village’s District 1 and for District 13, which includes Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill have been at the forefront of figuring out ways to integrate their local public schools.

Gotbaum believes there’s been a trend over the past 15 years in education reform movements that have pushed parents out of the process, but CECs have been at the forefront of holding elected officials accountable to families.

“The CECs — to some extent — have been able to organize parents to push back against this ‘know-nothing’ reform in NYC by fighting school overcrowding, pushing back against charter co-locations and school closings, saying no to segregated schools, seeking more public school funding, and resisting the reliance on high stakes testing,” he said.

Shino Tanikawa said that District 2's CEC, stretching from TriBeCa and the Village to the Upper East Side,  have worked hard to make their voices "relevant," writing letters, passing resolutions, offering ideas to the DOE and building partnerships with elected officials.

"Serving on the CEC is important because we have to continue to fight to have our voices heard," she said. "Education of children is and should be a partnership that includes parents as real meaningful partners — not just as someone who helps with homework."

Kim Watkins, an Upper West Side mom who also serves on District 3’s CEC, echoed that the CEC structure is “not perfect,” but she said she felt fortunate through her role having learned so much about the way schools and districts operate, especially when it comes to zoning and admissions.

She called it a "symbiotic partnership" that also helps public schools because "parents know what's going on: we are the boots on the ground."

Applicants for Community Education Councils positions must have a child enrolled in a district elementary or middle school. Those eyeing Citywide Council seats must have a child in the programs covered by the governing body.

More information on how to run for a CEC seat can be found at NYCParentLeaders.org.

Here are some important dates to consider:

►Applications are open from Feb. 9 - through March 5.

►The DOE will hold its first of a series of information sessions on CECs at Tweed Courthouse on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m.

►The DOE, along with schools’ Presidents’ Councils, will host forums for parents to meet Council candidates from March 20 – Apr. 21.

►PTA leaders will vote for new CEC members between Apr. 23 – May 9

►New terms start July 1.