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Op-Ed | For public school families, extend mayoral control now

Classes are held with masks being required to be worn at the Sokolowski School in Chelsea
Teacher Mary Yi works with a fourth grade student at the Sokolowski School, where students and teachers are required to wear masks because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., September 15, 2021. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

In 2006, my husband and I took our eldest child to his first day of school at PS 235 in Brooklyn. That morning, we became proud public school parents – and we’ve never looked back. We have entrusted New York City’s schools with the education of our three children, across almost two decades. Through years of service on parent teacher associations, school leadership teams, and an array of community education councils, I have seen our schools from the inside and out. It hasn’t always been easy – especially in the last two years. But even amid unprecedented challenges, the system has remained dependable, knowledgeable, and accountable. Our public schools have helped my children learn and grow into thoughtful, driven scholar-athletes.

This spring, as mayoral control of our schools expires, politics could deny those same opportunities to the next generation of young people. Families like mine deserve access to a great public education, and it’s time to raise our voices. That’s why I’m urging my representatives in Albany to extend mayoral control of New York City’s public schools.

Children like mine have benefitted in the twenty years since mayors were first granted control of their own school system. There’s no mystery why outcomes have improved: with control comes accountability. From Bloomberg, to de Blasio, to Adams, mayors know they are on the hook to deliver a quality education for nearly one million students. And if they don’t deliver, they know they can expect an earful from parents like me and my husband.

Today, centralized, streamlined control is more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned students’ lives upside down. Thanks to recent announcements from Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul – my 10th-grader is happily adjusting to seeing his friends’ faces again – we are beginning to turn the page. But it will take time, energy, and resources to recover all that was lost. As kids struggle to get back on track, now is exactly the wrong time to experiment with an entirely new model – or return to the bad old days of the Board of Education.

Disconnected, unaccountable school boards cannot single-handedly turn two devastating years around for the next generation of New Yorkers. But Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks can.

All mayors deserve the chance to manage the schools they oversee. Eric Adams, especially, has earned this opportunity. I learned that the first time I met him, when my son graduated in 2014. Adams, then the Brooklyn Borough President, invited all graduating Brooklynites to celebrate at his office in Borough Hall. He took time to personally congratulate and engage every graduate and their families from elementary, middle, and high school. My son is preparing to graduate college this year, and he still reflects on that moment.

As Borough President, Adams did more than just celebrate our successes. He was a consistent ally for parents, hosting workshops and directing us to existing resources to support students’ growth. He understands the importance of parental involvement in helping children achieve their educational goals and dreams. And as a product of city schools himself, he knows what students need to feel safe, engaged, and supported in the classroom. That’s the kind of leadership our school system deserves.

In the past, some elected officials in Albany have turned mayoral control into a political weapon. With control set to expire in June, that cannot happen this year. The early signs are good: Governor Hochul included a four-year extension in her recent budget proposal. But the longer legislators wait to agree, the cloudier students’ futures become – and the more parents must worry about the quality of their children’s education. 

Some politicians have already suggested that this decision belongs in the daily churn of Albany dealmaking. They might need a reminder: public education isn’t a bargaining chip.

Mayor Adams has promised to marshal all the City’s resources to move our schools past this pandemic. He has the experience, the energy, and the vision to seize this moment. We should let him.

Lisa Millsaps-Graham, Ph.D., MPH, MS is a parent of three public school children in Brooklyn.

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