I know that one sentence from the NYC Chancellor’s opinion piece on Mayoral control is absolutely true; but a warning…

Chancellor Carmen Fariña on why losing mayoral control would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption”— Chalkbeat

First, let’s not pretend that returning to local community school boards is not seriously problematic and dangerous for many students in the system. And whatever you think of Mayoral control, I know for a fact that this one sentence from the Chancellor’s missive is absolutely true: “One district alone stole $6 million from students, paying 81 employees for jobs they never showed up to.” I know because I was drafted as superintendent to go in and clean up that huge corruption mess. When I walked into CSD 29Q in 2000; I clearly understood why one central office official described the school district’s shenanigans as a political “cesspool” (my apologies to all cesspools). The large number of “politically connected” (from school aides to principals) jobs meant that “competence” was at best irrelevant. It was an operational definition of: Institutional “Black on Black” crime; and the primary victims were all of the children of Southeast Queens. Many computer purchase order forms were signed, and thus vendors were paid, but the children were forced to (not) learn computer technology on missing, quickly malfunctioning, or never-ever working computers. Computer company “Service contracts” were not worth the paper they were printed on. In many cases principals just gave up protesting, out of fear of political-professional retribution from the very district officials who mastermind and managed, what was essentially a major criminal enterprise. And since running a criminal business takes up the same amount of time as would be used to run a legitimate business (a great deal of energy had to be invested in bullying the district’s staff, and avoiding detection). There was not even the symbolic effort by the district’s leadership to pay any attention to teaching and learning in the schools.

This indifference to real educational leadership took place in what was, and still is, one of the most underperforming school districts in NYC. I base this district underperformance assertion on factors of: average household income, parental level of education, a large number of parents who are public civil servants, and the high percentage of family homeownership by the residents of Southeast Queens. To pull off such a large act of district wide educational neglect of this magnitude, required the cooperation and/or complacency of many elected, religious, civic and community based leaders. (Translation: Parents you may be on your own!)

Our team was able to clean up and dramatically turn the district around (“Trying a Stern Hand on a Mediocre School District”; NY Times March 22, 2000) academically, financially; and ultimately “flipping the narrative” of the district being a “technology desert” by introducing Applied Technology-Robotics Labs (along with fulltime Sci-Tech teachers) in every middle school, as well as several elementary, and early childhood centers. We were also able to put computer technology into the large number of temporary housing shelters in the district (at the time Southeast Queens had highest concentration of these temporary housing units in the city).
We expanded art, music and dance programs in every school, while at the same time significantly raising standardized test scores across the district, and in every content area. We expanded Gifted and Talented programs to schools and students who were able and willing; but were historically denied the opportunity. The institution of a district wide “Readers to Leaders” program in partnership with Time For Kids and Scholastic; exponentially expanded student’s informal (reading for enjoyment) reading experiences in every school in the district. We also partnered with Princeton Review to design and implement a real test-prep program, to increase the number of students gaining access to NYC’s Specialized High Schools. It is amazing what can be done when the funding goes into programs, projects and schools, and not only into the into the pockets of criminals!

But here is my warning for parents and communities of color. Our work was blocked and halted not by the corrupting influence of local politicians of Southeast Queens (even as they did their best to do so); but by a chancellor working under mayoral control (“Be tough-and smart- in streamlining schools”; NY Daily News … “New York Daily News, 9/2003; editorial: “Bonus for student achievement”).

The lesson here is that parents and communities where the school system is: “less than excited”, underperforming, and underserving their children, should not get totally caught up in the “look” of the structure; but rather focus on how said structure is prepared (or can be forced) to seriously educate the children of that community. There are districts and schools in NYC that have performed at a high academic achievement level, regardless of the political-managerial system that oversees the school system. That is the place where you want your children and community to be.

Ultimately you want your children in a school or district where their educational lives, and future success really matter. Failing to politically educate, organize advocate for effective districts and good schools; regardless of who “runs them”, will leave many of the city’s parents: to chase the ever-changing punchline-political joke, as the system applies the yoke and/or the rope to their children’s dreams!

“Chancellor Carmen Fariña on why losing mayoral control ‘would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption”… http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/06/19/chancellor-farina-on-why-losing-mayoral-control-would-mean-chaos-gridlock-and-corruption/

Related Articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/02/nyregion/ex-queens-school-chief-charged-in-6-million-bid-rigging-scheme.html?ref=topics

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/05/nyregion/metro-briefing-new-york-queens-5-in-fraud-ordered-to-pay-5-million.html?ref=topics