Comedian Natasha Vaynblat Channels Public School Teacher Angst

Melissa Gomez Photography
Natasha Vaynblat
For a performer, any kind of exposure is a good thing. But as comedian Natasha Vaynblat recently learned, sometimes being discovered can be mortifying.

Vaynblat, 27, worked for four years as a public school teacher in New York City, an experience she recounts in her one-woman show at UCB Chelsea, "Natasha Vaynblat: United Federation of Teachers." At a recent performance, a group of her former high school students surprised her after the show. One of them had seen an ad on TV for an IFC-hosted Web series called Laurie, in which Vaynblat had starred. The students got together to check out her show. "I forget that it's so easy to find anybody now with the internet," Vaynblat says.

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Parents Want Power, More Sway Over NYC Public Schools

Courtesy of the New York City Department of Education
Chancellor Carmen Fariña announces the start of the CEC application process in February.
On a sunny Saturday morning in early March, around 40 parents — mostly mothers — sat in a small room in a downtown Brooklyn office building at desks arranged in rows. They faced a screen emblazoned with the words "Power and Authority."

"When you think about authority, what do you think about?" asked Claudette Agard, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), an organization that fights for equality in New York City's schools.

"Control!" one mother called out. "Government!" another added. "Política," offered one woman, who wore an earpiece so she could hear the Spanish translator speaking through a headset at the back of the room.

"Do you think about authority figures?" Agard continued. "What authority figures do you think of?"

"Parents," a woman responded.

"Ooh, I like that!" Agard shot back.

The parents were attending the CEJ's first Parent Power School of 2015. The program began two and a half years ago with the goal of helping parents with children in public schools across the five boroughs understand the city's school system. "It's kind of morphed into a much more robust way of having in-depth discussions about what's happening in the city and why," said the group's coordinator, Natasha Capers.

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NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott Announces 4,000 New Slots for After-School

Photo Credit: Photomatt28 via Compfight cc
Stumping at churches across the city yesterday, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced a $13 million initiative to add more slots to the city's after school programs. 4,000 seats will be added to after-school care and tutoring for elementary and middle school students.

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City's Education Department Will Pay $25k Settlement to Child Injured in Bronx Cafeteria

Score one for the kids.
The New York City Department of Education has reached a settlement with the family of a child who was injured after slipping on his school's wet floor three years ago.

School officials offered $25,000, and the family accepted, according to court documents filed this morning in the Bronx Supreme Court. The department is likely also set to reimburse the family's legal costs, which were around $8,300.

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It Can Be Done: DOE Reverses Decision to Co-Locate Thriving Brownsville High School

So, remember how in December we concluded that there's nothing that a public school can do to successfully fight off co-locations with other schools?

Well, Brownsville Academy High School proved us wrong.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's reign, rulings on co-location proposals seem to be guided by an unspoken scientific law which asserts that a co-location in motion shall remain in motion.

But, less than a week after dozens of BAHS students filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education challenging the co-location of a Success Academy charter school, the DOE has notified the lawyer of the students, Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice, that it will scrap its plans to co-locate the building out of which BAHS operates.

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City Can (But Won't) Play Its Part in Bus Strike

We're damn-near a month into the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181's bus-driver and matron strike, and the city is still pretending like it doesn't have everything to do with why this mess continues to drag-on.

The union, politicians and parents are begging the city to at least come to the table and consider negotiating an agreement with the striking workforce. But, in case they haven't made it clear enough, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott are stubbornly sticking to their argument that the city cannot legally implement a new Employee Protection Provision for drivers and matrons when their contract expires in June.

Two weeks ago the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the city, along with bus companies, are the primary employers of the union. But apparently the city doesn't really care what the NLRB thinks.

"I've said it over and over again. I think it's the role between companies and the union, and I'm not changing that," Walcott testified during a joint-committee city council hearing on Friday. "We have a responsibility based on our legal interpretation and based on what we feel is the right thing -- not to include the EPP."

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Students and Families Suffer Most In Bus Strike and City Has Itself to Blame

Thumbnail image for school bus .jpg
As more than 8,000 school bus drivers and matrons formed picket lines around the city this morning, some 152,000 students and their families were forced to find alternative means of transportation in the pouring rain.

Jackie Ceonzo, mother of a 17-year-old autistic son, had to find a way to get her son from their home in the Upper West Side of Manhattan to his school located downtown in Chelsea -- all the while battling the flu and nasty weather.

"You know what the worst part is? It's that my son doesn't understand, and he loves the bus," Ceonzo tells the Voice. "So, the worst part is telling him that there's no bus coming and he's still in school. He's autistic so he's going to be so jammed up... It's not like I can just get on the subway with him."

For Ceonzo, as with the families of the some 54,000 other special-needs students affected by the strike, the journey won't be as simple as hopping on public transportation or jumping in a cab.

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UPDATE: Parents, Students and Community Not Sure They Have Real Voice in School Co-Location Process

Jason Lewis/Village Voice
From the school's rally against co-location in October.
UPDATE: Anyone who fought against the recent round of co-locations can now rest assured that they never had a say in yesterday's Panel on Educational Policy's vote.

The PEP voted late last night to approve every co-location proposal up for consideration. The approvals came after hours of impassioned pleas to the panel from members of the public both against and in favor of the proposed co-locations.

Everyone in attendance should demand that the DOE reimburse them for five hours spent at a meeting that essentially amounted to an open-mic therapy session at best.

Students from transfer high school Brownsville Academy, where the PEP ultimately voted to approve the co-location of a Success Academy Charter School, stayed until 11 p.m. pleading with the panel to reconsider.They were trying to figure out why the panel would potentially disrupt one of the city's rare high-performing transfer high schools to co-locate an elementary school.

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Parents, Students and Community Not Sure They Have Real Voice in School Co-Location Process

Jason Lewis/Village Voice
From the school's rally against co-location in October.
Students, parents and the surrounding community have made it clear that they don't want the New York City Department of Education to co-locate a new school alongside Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts in Brooklyn.

But, they're unclear whether they possess the power to stop it from happening.

The City's Panel on Educational Policy is set to rule on proposed co-locations around the city later today. Those looking to prevent co-location at their community school aren't sure whether they've had much say in the matter.

"I honestly I feel like the decision might already be made. I've attended as many meetings as I could," Anthonine Fiote, a parent of two middle school students at Susan McKinney, tells the Voice. "This school is really filled with talented kids who want to take [their craft] to the next level. If you take that away from them, I just feel like that's wrong."

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Hey DOE! It's Kind of Your Fault Boys and Girls High School is Under-Performing, Community Says

Jason Lewis/Village Voice
Principal Bernard Gassaway urges the community to play their part in ensuring that kids get educated.
Those advocating to preserve the current structure of Boys and Girls High School say the New York City Department of Education has failed to calculate the role it has played in contributing to the school's drop in performance in recent years.

The historic Bedford-Stuyvesant high school is facing the prospect of being phased out, radically redesigned and divided into several different district or charter schools -- after receiving poor performance grades from the DOE for the last three years.

Members of the Boys and Girls family, politicians and members of the surrounding community passionately reminded the DOE -- at a community meeting held at Boys and Girls last night -- that the school has admitted nearly 2000 underachieving students from around the borough in the last three years.

"You cannot ask a school to absorb 1800 students from all over the borough, who themselves have been dislocated, and expect that they will come together under one roof and...really function at optimal capacity," Congressman-elect Hakeem Jeffries told District 16 Superintendent Karen Watts and another DOE representative at last night's forum.

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