Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fariña Race Conversation by Bernard Gassaway

New York City’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the leader of the largest public school system in United States with 1.1 million students, is not prepared to talk about race relations, even though nearly 85 percent of New York City’s public student population is of color.
Public schools seem like an ideal place to discuss race relations, particularly with children of color who may be traumatized by the recent killings of Black men across this country.
Although teachers are likely candidates to facilitate these discussions, many have expressed that they are unprepared and in many cases reluctant to delve into race issues for fear of saying the wrong thing and possibly losing their jobs.
Their fear may be justified, given the backlash that Farina faced when she attempted to publicly address how parents and educators should talk about race with their children.
When Farina recently penned a letter to New York City educators and parents stating that they have a “moral obligation” to discuss race with their children, she was inundated with hate mail. She admitted to being surprised by the public’s response to her letter.
Her surprise is a clear indicator that she, like many others, is not prepared to talk about race. More importantly, Fariña and others should realize that, when it comes to race, it is more about what you do than what you say. The New York City public school system is no beacon for integration and inclusion.
New York City’s public schools are among the most segregated in the nation. The New York City Department of Education has not embraced curricula that would expose all children and staff to the African American experience in America and in the African diaspora. Black men are not represented significantly in New York City public schools or in senior leadership.
What has Fariña done in her tenure as chancellor to demonstrate that race matters beyond conversations? She does not have much to show. Talking about race is irrelevant if an administrator has not established policies and practices to address the inherent racism that is embedded in schools’ enrollment policies, curricula, and hiring practices.
So Fariña should not be surprised by the public’s response to her seemingly contradictory “moral obligation” charge. Her failure to demonstrate the significance of race relations through proactive policies and practices is likely the source of the hate mail. Farina lives in a glass schoolhouse and should not throw stones.
I would implore Fariña to act on race and not charge others to talk about it. She has a moral obligation to practice what she preaches. Here are four specific recommendations for Chancellor Fariña:
1. Eliminate or significantly revise school zoning policies to erase the invisible color lines that serve to block school integration and sustain school segregation.
2. Embrace inclusive and culturally relevant curricula; start by adopting recommendations from the Amistad Commission. Then train teachers and school leaders to infuse culturally relevant and historically accurate information into day-to-day instruction and school-related experiences.
3. Demonstrate an acceptance of and appreciation for the value of Black men. Their invisibility in the New York City Department of Education is directly related to choices that Fariña and others have made.
4. Adopt an evidence-based approach to recruiting educators of color. The NYCDOE’s latest effort to recruit men of color is fundamentally flawed. As with other initiatives, NYCDOE does not appear to have a strategic, plausible plan.
After nearly fifty years in urban education as a student, teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent, I am convinced that Fariña, teachers, and principals are not prepared to talk about race relations. This is unfortunate given our current state of emergency as perceived by many in the Black community.
Action, not rhetoric, is what is required to address the race problem in the United States. Schools, families, and communities all have a stake in the reality of the race problem.
Fariña has the opportunity to practice what she preaches, model for other school systems. I hope Fariña and others receive my message and take action.

Bernard Gassaway, former NYC teacher, principal, superintendent

Friday, September 2, 2016

Parents, Mind Your Own Business by Bernard Gassaway

School business is for educators, not parents. Parents need to focus more on
raising their children than getting too involved in what goes on in schools.

As harsh as this may sound, this is an expressed sentiment among many educators across this country in both public and private school systems. I have heard this from colleagues, and I have experienced it as a parent. 

Disconnected, Disrespected and Dismissed

Parents, in overwhelming numbers, you have expressed feeling disconnected, disrespected and dismissed by New York City Department of Education (DOE) officials. This happens for numerous reasons.

DOE officials rely on your lack of unity. Time and time again they see how easy it is to manipulate you.

They spread rumors to weaken any bonds that may exist among you. They infiltrate your organizations.

They make under the table deals with individuals and community-based organizations to influence your decisions and actions. Since they do not respect you, they will use anyone, even your children, to get their way --- A way that is often not in the best interest of your children. 

DOE officials rely on your lack of stamina. They are practically immune to the occasional protests held at City Hall or DOE headquarters. Once the protest is over, they expect you to disperse and go away.  An effective protest should last as long as necessary to achieve its goal. If officials are not inconvenienced in any measurable way, they do not care if you protest.

DOE officials rely on your blind faith. You turn your child over to them for approximately two hundred days a year, six hours a day. Yet, you spend less than two hours in the school all year. You believe in their evaluation of your child, in most cases without question. You know very little about the counselors, teachers and administrators, who are responsible for your child’s physical and mental well-being.

DOE officials rely on your fear. You fear their dominance and deprecation. You fear their retribution and retaliation. You fear their arrogance and authority. They serve as judge, jury and executioner. You and your child are at their mercy. 

DOE officials rely on your lack of options. They readily dismiss you because you have limited options.

Private school is not an option for many. They realize the majority of families whose children attend public school fall below the poverty line and can barely afford to pay for living expenses, let alone pay for an education.

Strategies for Effective Engagement with School Officials

1. Listen. Tune in to what your child says about the quality of his teachers. Children are often accurate. Schools that serve poor, Latino and Black children have a disproportionate number of unqualified teachers. If your child has unqualified teachers, fight to have his classes or school changed. Your engagement with school officials begins with your child.

2. Praise, honor and support good teachers. Tell and show them how much you appreciate what they are doing for your child. 

3. Seek support. Do not suffer in silence. Find other parents who have experienced what you are going through. They may be able to help you resolve your issues. 

3. Plan for meetings with school personnel. Never meet with them alone. Bring people, your pastor, friends, and family members. There is strength in numbers.  

4. Deliberate. Take a reasonable amount of time to think about any school-related decisions. Do not allow school officials to pressure you into making rash decisions. Confer with family, clergy or parent/child advocates.     

5. Attend and participate in school-related activities. Share your opinion. Volunteer. The staff should know you as a concerned and involved parent. When they know and respect you, they are more likely to know and respect your child. Likewise, when your child knows you are involved, he is more likely to behave and perform well.

Things You Should Expect from the School System:

1.   Request a copy of your child’s school records. You have a right to any material in her official file. This is extremely important. You need to know what is being documented about your child ñ and in some cases what may be said about you, as a parent. Read the contents of the file with your child.

2.  Visit your child’s class during school hours. Give at least one days notice. You must avoid disruption. You should not attempt to speak with the teacher during this visit. Ask for a tour of the school. Your purpose is to observe the lesson, class and school climate.

3. Schedule appointments to meet with your child’s teachers. Do not wait until the bi-annual parent teacher conferences. Prepare specific questions before the meeting. Meetings may be scheduled for after regular school hours. This may allow for meaningful discussions and fewer interruptions.

4. Volunteer to work in the parent office. Each school should have at least one office dedicated to parents. Parent friendly schools will have Parent Reception or Resource Centers that are accessible during and after the regular school day.

5. Ensure school personnel are able to contact you. It is your responsibility to inform them when your contact information changes. You should not place this responsibility on your child.

6. Meet with appropriate school personnel to deal with concerns. Decide if it is necessary to meet the principal in order to get your matter resolved. Though the principal should be accessible to parents, it may not be possible to meet her immediately. You may expedite the resolution if you target the person who will ultimately be able to help you directly. 

7. Attend workshops for parents. Parent friendly schools offer them regularly. These may include: Computer training, reading, writing, math, music, art, and others. 

8. Attend school assembly programs that honor children. You may need to take a day or a few hours off from work. Programs may also be held on weekends and evenings. You should attend with your child even if she is not being honored. It may serve as a motivation for you and her while simultaneously showing support for other children and families.

Parents, Know Your Business

1. Meet with your child at the beginning of each school year. Discuss what he is expected to learn in and out of school. 

2. Monitor your child’s development. Do not rely on school tests to define your child’s level of intelligence. Focus on whether he is acquiring life skills? How would he respond to unanticipated occurrences? Do you see and hear him thinking? 

3. Seek help for your child through local libraries, community organizations, churches and nontraditional institutions. Consider peer tutoring as an option. It is an overlooked effective strategy.

4. Schedule meaningful activities for your child. These may include family trips to the park, museum, library, neighborhood walks, and volunteering at a local food pantry or shelter. Idle time for an active child is asking for trouble. Keep your child busy. Keep him physically, mentally and culturally engaged. 

5. Stay active in your child’s life. Children with active parents are less likely to be abused by school personnel. Child predators try to avoid the kind of attention involved parents bring.

6. Train your child to think. This does not happen in traditional schools. They train your child to pass tests. They train your child to conform. The school system discourages differences and independence. Children with independent spirits generally do not function well in school without involved parents. Children who learn differently are often labeled and neglected. They are punished or dispirited by a system that mandates uniformity and conformity. 

7. Make certain your child’s educational needs are met. Be a squeaky wheel. School officials do not expect you to be persistent. Call, write and visit daily if necessary. If the system labels or harms your child, make them pay for it. Seek legal counsel and take them to court. Charge them with educational neglect, deprivation and malfeasance.


A tidal wave begins with a ripple. You serve as a ripple in your child’s life. Join with other ripples (including committed and concerned school personnel) and make waves. When parents, community and school personnel are on the same page, working together, children thrive. [excerpt from Education Denied: Children Challenges Choices]