Parents have high hopes for new schools chancellor

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It’s 10 a.m., a time still considered breakfast, yet at Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, lunch is being served.

While early lunch might not produce too many protests among youngsters, the scheduling problems is actually a product of overcrowding at RKA — where more than 1,400 students middle and high school are forced to use limited space.

“There are only so many kids legally allowed in the cafeteria at a time,” said Vicki Auerbach, co-president of RKA’s parent association. “When your student body is so large, that’s the fallout. Kids are eating at ridiculous times through no fault of the school.”

What could be at least seven hours between meals for RKA students is one of just many issues parents and others are imploring Mayor Bill de Blasio to consider as he looks to find a new school chancellor, serving more than one million students and 1,800 schools.

Carmen Fariña announced her retirement late last month, and the mayor is conducting a national search for her replacement.

“Overcrowding and its effect on class size and effective instruction is really my main concern,” Auerbach said. “It’s hard to capture the attention of 30-something teenagers in a room.”

Overcrowing at schools like RKA grows each academic year. RKA rose from a little more than 1,380 students in 2014-15, to just under 1,460 a couple years later, according to data from the city’s education department.

“The focus should be more on building the entire being instead of just tests andnumbers,” said Crystal Teron-Salas, parent association president at AmPark Neighborhood School, which serves pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. 

“A lot of kids struggle with testing. They may be the smartest kids in the classroom but they actually struggle when they have to take a test.”

Teron-Salas praised Fariña’s work promoting literacy and wants the department to continue advocating reading. Yet, she is concerned about potential cuts to art and music programs across city schools, which she said are vital.

Because there is not a large enough amount of lower-income students at the school, AmPark does not get additional funds through Title I. That means extra money is the responsibility of the parent associations through various fundraisers like bake sales and promotions with local businesses.

A continued focus on English language learners and support for teachers — especially at renewal schools — are two of the main things Jennifer Pankowski, would like to see in a new chancellor.

“If they are going to continue with renewal schools, they need to let teachers and principals and administrators do their jobs … and not this threat on the backburner, ‘If you don’t do your job, we’re going to take it away,’” the education professor at Pace University in Manhattan said.

Under the city’s Renewal School program, low-performing schools are helped through a variety of methods that include expanding the school day, providing after-school programs with community organizations, and even requiring teachers to reapply for their jobs.

The students in Pankowski’s class wonder if they are entering a profession where they get no support from the education department, while blaming them for problems within the system.

Charles Moerdler, an attorney representing the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, said a new chancellor needs to set the stage for more effective schools as a way to tie into issues like affordable housing, better school transportation, and working more closely with the community.

The city, he said, has not built mixed-income apartment buildings, which would attract a wider variety of families to a community.

“If you don’t have schools that can accommodate a broad range of people, you don’t attract good housing,” Moerdler said, adding one complements the other. Without that component, “it builds tomorrow’s ghettos.”

He cited the recent opening of a transitional housing facility for homeless families at 5731 Broadway where Community Board 8 — where he also serves as the chair of the land use committee — received very little notice and appeared to have no plans in place for students who may to have to enroll in already overcrowded local schools.

“Nobody bothered to think or care,” Moedler said.

de Blasio said he wants someone who will continue Fariña’s work, but has yet to offer any potential frontrunners for the job. However, some publications have suggested names like Tom Boasberg, Denver’s public schools superintendent, and Dorita Gibson, Fariña’s senior deputy chancellor.

“Our system has a lot of things broken,” Pankowski said. “I want him to hire someone who is going to challenge everyone’s thinking, in a good way, in a good progressive way.”

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