Parent Group Visits All Schools In Need of Improvement In Struggling Bronx District

PAC Bronx 1.JPG
Sam Levin
Sasha Warner-Berry, Parent Action Committee organizer, points out the schools in need of improvement to a guidance counselor passing by.
Juana Gonzalez, 35, standing on a quiet corner outside P.S. 58 in the Bronx yesterday afternoon, said she was feeling a bit nervous.

The mother of three, whose two sons attend struggling schools in one of the city's lowest performing school districts, was waiting for dismissal -- but she wasn't there to pick up her children.

For the first time, Gonzalez, with her three-year-old daughter by her side, was participating in the newest campaign of the the New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, a Bronx-based advocacy group that focuses on increasing parent involvement in local public schools.

"I'm just going to talk to them from my point of view as a parent," she told the Voice as she waited for parents to arrive to pick up their children.

Gonzalez -- whose sons are in 4th and 7th grades -- was helping out with the organization's latest effort called "26 Schools in 26 Days."

Through this campaign, organizers and parents are visiting the 26 elementary and middle schools in District 9 that are designated as "schools in need of improvement." Those represent more than half of the schools in the district (unsurprisingly, District 9 also is a "district in need of improvement.")

Districts 9 and 7 in the South Bronx are the two lowest performing school districts across the city -- 9 currently is the second worst, but previously has been ranked the lowest. Schools are given these designations by the state as part of "No Child Left Behind." It's based on a measurement called "adequate yearly progress" -- which is tied directly to standardized testing.

What the Parent Action Committee is trying to do now is to make parents aware that their schools are on this list, and then bring them together in a parent-led campaign that will make recommendations to the state's Department of Education on how to improve the neighborhood's schools. They hope to host a forum this spring about the challenges facing District 9 -- which has been in need of improvement for seven years -- so that their ideas can be considered before September.

The group also has been active in speaking out against the disproportionate arrests of minority students and Bronx residents inside schools.

The Voice tagged along yesterday for the campaign's 20th stop. Their schools visits started earlier this month and are finishing next week.

"This is one of the lowest performing schools, but we want parents to be involved," Gonzalez, who met the organization at a recent Parent Association meeting, told one woman waiting outside the school. The organizers set up a large map on the sidewalk that highlights all the struggling schools in the district and then stopped parents and guardians entering and leaving the school around dismissal time. They had them sign pledges that say they will be involved in improving District 9, and gave out information about their upcoming planning meeting on April 10th.

"We are trying to develop a new improvement plan and we feel this should come from the parents who know what's going on," PAC organizer Sasha Warner-Berry told another passerby. "Check it out -- this is more than half the schools in the district," she added, pointing to the large map she had set up on the street corner.

PAC Bronx 2.JPG
Sam Levin
Parent Juana Gonzalez collects pledges at P.S. 58 in the Bronx.

The campaign has already gotten pledges from more than 450 parents, Warner-Berry said, noting that the group also is regularly posting videos from their school visits.

"If I don't stand up for my kids and what they deserve no one else is going to do it for me," Guillermina De Jesus, another parent who has been campaigning, told the Voice last week. Her sons are also attending schools in need of improvement in the district. "It's very worrying as a parent. I'm very concerned about my kids' education."

"As parents, what really motivates us is if I can take the initiative, maybe one, two, three other parents will see my example and also get involved," said De Jesus, speaking in Spanish through a translator. "We want to see parents get involved and not just organizations and officials. We really want to feel part of the solution."

Gonzalez said she doesn't want to see this part of the Bronx ignored. "I want to make a difference...and I don't want us to be left behind."

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.

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