Op-ed on Education

Shirley L. Huntley

September 08, 2010

Enhancing the Student Experience Through
Parental Involvement and Financial Support

By Senator Shirley L. Huntley
10th Senatorial District

The start of school for New York City children signifies the “unofficial end of summer” for them. From my role as an involved mother, to my early activism as president of Community Board 28, to my current advocacy as State Senator in the 10th senatorial district, I know all too well the affects this transition has on parents and children alike.

Frustrated parents and guardians who feel a disconnect with the Department of Education (DOE) often reach out to me for answers, especially this time of the year. Sensitive to their concerns, I wanted to legislatively act on their issues to make the process of being engaged with their children’s school more seamless. With that in mind, I sponsored and passed legislation (S. 6107) in the senate that would create a Parent Training Center in each of the five boroughs. The Parent Training Centers are designed to help parents cut through the red tape when dealing with the DOE, understand the powers and responsibilities of the DOE under mayoral control, increase access between parents and schools/teachers and provide training and workshops to help parents become more involved and familiar with their local education council and local school administrators. Because I have attended countless forums and orchestrated many hearings and heard the voices of parents who talked about how they felt shut out of their children’s education because of a lack of communication with the DOE and because of mayoral control, these centers are a great achievement and an enormous victory for New York City parents.

To further engage parents, I also passed the Parental Bill of Rights (S. 5452) which would require the DOE to provide a copy of its existing parental bill of rights in the language the parents/guardians predominately speak, if requested, and post it in a prominent area within the lobby of schools in both English and Spanish. Such parental rights include the access of information regarding students, the right to have input in their children's education and their children's right to education. The Parental Bill of Rights also includes parental responsibilities.

For the 1.1 million children in the New York City education system, school can be a time of anxiety for them as well. All too often, they suffer in silence from the harassment encountered by other students. This year, my democratic colleagues and I passed a bill that addresses this situation. The Dignity for All Students Act (S.1987) was a bill I supported that will help curb bullying and harassment of students in public schools due to their race, ethnicity, religion, weight, income level, sexual identity and many other individual characteristics.

Such bullying and harassment creates a hostile environment and often involves verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that negatively affects students’ educational performance, and their mental, emotional or physical well-being.

For some, hostile environments can take a toll on students who are unable to cope, and we have seen numerous cases in schools across the state and across the nation where, unfortunately, students decide to end their lives as a result. The Teen Suicide Bill (S.4028) was a piece of legislation I passed this year that provides linkage between the DOE Web site to the Office of Mental Health Web site, where information can be accessed on teen suicide training programs. Faculty in both public and private schools would be alerted to this information every year if they wanted to conduct programs or disseminate the information to students.

Funding is a crucial element to help schools generate quality educational services and facilities that allow our students to be competitive in the global market and workforce. In nearly four years in the Senate, I have been instrumental in allocating dollars for education including funding to construct P.S./I.S. 48Q in Jamaica which was built to ease the overcrowding of other schools in the area. In addition, I allocated funds for other schools in Queens including P.S. 196, P.S. 49 and August Martin High School (among others).

Most recently, New York was among the winners in ‘The Race to the Top’ state competition, designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform. The State will be awarded nearly $700 million. It is estimated that $477 million will go directly to local school districts. New York was among 10 winning applicants that have adopted rigorous common, college and career-ready standards in reading and math, created pipelines and incentives to put the most effective teachers in high-need schools, and have alternative pathways to teacher and principal certification.

Working to improve the education system in New York City and in New York State is an objective of mine that will always be one of my greatest priorities. We cannot neglect the roll of parents, the well-being of students and the necessary funds when navigating and enhancing our education system. Education is the engine that will propel students toward a bright future, and our responsibility as elected officials, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders is to ensure that the engine does not fail.