NEW YORK - After more than a decade of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's corporate restructuring of public education, a coalition of community groups hit the streets to ask New Yorkers, especially parents, what their priorities really were.
"When there is more collaboration, our school system is that much better," said New York City Comptroller John Liu, a progressive candidate for the 2013 mayor's race, during a recent press conference launch of the PS 2013 A+ Bus tour.
The press conference and bus tour were organized by A+ NYC, a diverse coalition united by their belief that a new direction is urgently needed at the New York City Department of Education.
Bill Thompson, also a mayoral candidate and former president of the New York Board of Education, said, "A+ NYC is showing how it needs to be done. For the last 12 years now, no one has reached out, no one wanted to hear. Those at City Hall, the mayor, and those at the Board of Education don't really care what you have to say!"
The bus went to all five boroughs and made over 25 stops speaking to parents like Minerva Morales of the Bronx who said, "Co-location at my son's school means that his class has lunch at 10:30 in the morning. That might make sense to a businessman but not a mother."
Morales is a member of Coalition for Educational Justice and likes the direction the movement is headed in. "The PS 2013 Bus tour gave a chance for parents to say what's important to them and be connected to people and organizations that are fighting for it."
Although to some it may seem like a laundry list of concerns Morales contends they are "common sense approaches" with overwhelming support in Black, Latino and working-class communities throughout the city. "Engaging education not standardized tests preparation, in-school alternatives to suspensions, curriculum that includes sports, arts creativity. It's not rocket science!"
The coalition is comprised of nearly 50 community organizations like the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, La Fuente, the Brotherhood Sister Sol, New York Communities for Change and Make the Road NY to name a few. Each have memberships that include parents, students and/or employees from New York's public schools.
A+ NYC was formed this past fall and began a series of "visioning" workshops throughout the city, allowing for ideas to be collected from over 1,000 New Yorkers. Eric Perez, a youth leader at Make the Road New York, described the process, "A+ New York set out to do something that has never been done before or at least not done often enough, which is to simply ask people what they want from their schools?"
With parent and student leaders alongside community allies, A+NYC coalition is poised to be a leading voice for working families in the 2013 mayoral elections, where the question of public education will be high on voter's lists. A May conference is being planned as the next action for the coalition.
Until then don't expect to see parent Natasha Capers waiting for Bloomberg to solicit her opinion. "The DOE says there is no parent involvement: that is untrue! There are parents involved. Parent voices are out there and we want to be heard."
Photo: Students at PS 132-Juan Pablo Duarte School pose in front of A+ NYC bus, March 13, with theater props (A+ NYC via Facebook).