March 8, 2022
Mayor Eric Adams: Walking through those halls, I had to apologize for all the terror that I had when I was in this building. Boy, oh boy. You know, who would think a knucklehead would grow up to be a mayor? Never, never give up on these children. Never give up, you know. So this is an exciting day. This is the second day, second time, I have been back to Bayside High School after leaving several years ago and stood here with Adrienne Adams, the Speaker, who also graduated from Bayside High School. And now back here again today to just join my Chancellor, another public school child to talk about this important topic.
Mayor Adams: We are joined by so many – principal of the school Tracy Martinez. We are also joined by the President of CEC (Community Education Council) 28, Vijay Ramjattan. We are joined by the President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Urban League, Arva Rice. And joined by the Executive Director of 100 Black Men Incorporation, and a former educator, Courtney A. Bennett. And the reverend of reverends, a real activist, a board member of the Urban Assembly, and a real advocate for education, among other issues, Reverend Jacques De Graff. We're happy to have them here with us today, as many join us on this issue of mayoral accountability.
Mayor Adams: I want to thank Reverend Sharpton, the man who wrote an op-ed yesterday in The Daily News pointing out how important it is to have mayoral accountability and the role that it plays. It's just just great to be back to Bayside High School, the Commodores. The school has transformed itself. When I was here noticing the amazing CTE (Career and Technical Education) program, the staff. This building is immaculate. It is so clean. You walk through and see the young people sitting in the classroom. I peeked into the classroom that I used to sit in when I was a high school student, you know. And Mark Treyger, the former Councilperson and Chair of Education, who's part of the Chancellor's team now. Just really, you know, it's just good to be back in your high school. High schools just capture so many memories. You know, enjoying life across the street in our park over there. The gym. Just engaging in your longtime friends and you see them throughout life, and they always say, Eric, you look as good as you did back then.
Mayor Adams: So you know my story – born in South Jamaica, Queens. Bused out here to Bayside an hour and a half ride every day because we did not have a school in the community that had the same services that they had out here in Bayside. I spent many days here frustrated, why I couldn't learn, only to discover in college that I had a learning disability that was undiagnosed. And mother did not know how to navigate the system to find out how to give her son the services he deserved. But now that dyslexic young man is the Mayor of the City of New York, and we cannot continue to allow children to be denied the services that they need. So I know firsthand the power of a public school education, and I know also the difference of mayoral accountability and why it's important for us to fight on behalf of students in our school system.
Mayor Adams: Our outer boroughs schools have been impacted by the failure of not having mayoral accountability, right here in Bayside. Because of mayoral accountability and funding, they’re receiving $1.6 million in additional funding for Bayside High School. The [inaudible] student funding has denied them for so many years and not having the right control, we are unable to fix those inequities in real time. So the bottom line is if anyone should be in charge of our school system, that should be two kids from the public school system. That's what this is about.
Mayor Adams: David coming up through the public school system. Eric Adams coming up through the public school system. Those are the obvious. But then there are those things that are obvious, but we don't want to identify. We're two black men, and the overwhelming amount of the public schools' students are Black and brown students. And seeing us run this school, we're going to bring the commitment and dedication and understanding of what the denial of education has brought. As the first Mayor of color to be in charge of mayoral accountability in our school system, it sends the right message that we move this school system forward. I campaigned on this. David understood this. He understood the argument of why we had to get this right. And that is why we applaud Governor Hochul for sending a clear and loud message that we need to have mayoral accountability for four years, and it should be included in the budget. When you think about the fact that the session ends in June, at the same time mayoral accountability ends – how can we even think that our children should have to deal with the uncertainty of what the next school year is going to be? Particularly after coming through two years of having COVID bring uncertainty in their lives. We cannot do that again with COVID – traumatize our students with. We should not traumatize them as adults.
Mayor Adams: Chancellor Banks and I have a bold, ambitious plan for our school system, and we certainly need to include parents in doing so. That's the number one thing that I've heard from those who are questioning mayoral control – parent, parental accountability. No one does it better than Chancellor Banks. When I would attend his PTA meetings, he will have standing room only from parents being there and participating. That's at the heart of what we want to do for the 1.1 million students that we have in our public school system. When you do a real analysis, we have mayoral accountability in the Police Department, and the Department of Finance, and the Department of Buildings, in the FDNY, and social services. Every agency in our city, the mayor is responsible. You want to point to your mayor. So the mayor is responsible for every agency that handles adults’ problems. Why shouldn't the mayor be responsible for the agency that handles the problems of our children that actually feeds the crises that we are experiencing. This is just not dollars and cents. It's common sense. We should be in control of the public school system. So if we fail, vote us out.
Mayor Adams: That is what New Yorkers deserve, and that's what parents deserve. Under mayoral control we were able to put in place universal pre-K, expand 3-K, increase graduation rates by 20 percent. We know what it was like back in the days prior to 2002. When I was in Albany and voted for mayoral control, we had a school board system with 32 Community School Boards filled with patronage, corruption, infighting, failing our students, personal politics. This was the order of the day. We can't go backwards. We have to build on accountability and moving our city in the right direction. We have to address the learning loss. We have to be honest with ourselves – for the last two years the uncertainty of the educational experience. Our children had severe learning loss in math and reading. And the mental health issues that came from COVID. And the traumatizing of our educators, our teachers, and principals, and what they experienced not knowing what the next day was going to bring. We brought that certainty and clarity when the school system started and we inherited it in January. That is the clarity that we're going to bring with mayoral accountability. It would have been unimaginable that we had to debate to open schools or close schools during the COVID conversation. Because we had mayoral accountability, we were able to make split second decisions and move our school system and families in the right direction. That is why we're here today in front of my old school and call for the continuation of mayoral control.
Mayor Adams: I have been given a mandate at this historical time to turn around our school system. We can determine to continue to work, do what's right for our children – for the last 20 years, as we move forward – and make sure our children get the education they need and the opportunity they deserve. So I'm here to make sure that we support our parents, our principals, our students, and our school system. The children understand their future is in our hands. With mayoral accountability and the support of my lawmakers who have called and stated, Eric, we know this moment, we know how important it is, and we want to show our support for making this happen. It's time to include this in the budget and ensure that we have four years of stability to take place and remove the two years of instability that we witnessed for a long time.
Mayor Adams: You had a young person yelling out the window, that was me back then. Oh boy, I just want to say on behalf of my family, to all the educators, you know, I am just so sorry. You know, I look at my yearbook, and I say was that me?
Mayor Adams: No, but it's just good to be back to Bayside. Just really feel good to be back here and to say to these students that where you are is not who you are, as long as you are having an opportunity, you know. So in a real way, I just want to thank the school and all the teachers and the principals that are producing mayors and chancellors of the future. With that, I want to bring up my amazing chancellor, Chancellor David Banks.
Chancellor David Banks, Department of Education: Good morning, and thank you, Mr. Mayor. I'm just really so, so grateful to be here joining you today at Bayside High School. The school, you don't even know this, the school that I wanted to attend. Bayside High School was my number one preference when it was time to go to high school. But I got into Hillcrest High School, not far from here. And I had a great education at Hillcrest. But I was really looking forward to being a Commodore, but everything worked out for the best. First of all – acknowledge the principal here, Tracy Martinez. I know you've only been here for about four months as the leader of this great school. I just want to wish you well. No school can be all that it's supposed to be unless it has great leadership. So we are there. We'll be prepared to support you in any way, anything that you need to keep the legacy of Bayside High School alive. This is a great school and a great community and has great support, and we want to continue to make sure that you live up to the standard of excellence, which is Bayside.
Chancellor Banks: Last year, we elected our city's second Black mayor, Mayor Adams. We entrusted him with our public schools. We did so knowing that Mayor Adams is committed to taking bold action in service of our students to directly tackle the problems that have been built into our school system for the last 50 years. Now more than ever, the importance of mayoral accountability is clear, and it has been made so by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our schools became meal hubs serving over 140 million meals to New Yorkers of all ages. We got hundreds of thousands of devices into the hands of our students. We kept our schools open and we kept them safe throughout this winter. While other school boards around the country fought amongst themselves, we delivered. Prior to this pandemic, mayoral accountability moved our graduation rates to nearly 80 percent after decades of languishing at around 50 percent. You know why it increased? It increased because the public finally could hold someone accountable for results.
Chancellor Banks: I lived in the old system where we did not have mayoral accountability. You know what that system represented? No one was held accountable. We're not blind to the problems that exist. We are two leaders who came up through these schools. We know these schools. But we also know that our special education system is broken and must be fixed. We know that our multilingual learners have far too often left behind. We know that Black and brown boys remain at the bottom of most indicators of success. Our commitment to those students and to deeply engaging parents is not some political strategy. You see, this isn't a game to me. This is personal. I'm a product of this system. My entire professional career has been dedicated to the lives of the young people in this system. And I know what it means to engage parents and families. That's why we need a four year extension in the state budget. We have to remove our schools, our children's futures, from the political horse trading that happens in Albany.
Chancellor Banks: We hear our parents. We hear that this system betrayed them. But more politics will not solve the systemic problems that our system faces. It isn't fair to our families, our educators, or our students that time and political capital is spent every single year begging to do what is right for our kids. We should be spending time debating and fighting to ensure our kids have bright starts and bold futures. So let's start that conversation today. I know that we got parent organizations all over the city, community education councils, PTAs, CECs, the Panel for Educational Policy, who are going to hold us accountable. I see my friend here Tom Sheppard from the Panel for Educational Policy. And if nobody else is going to help hold us accountable, he's gonna hold us accountable. And he does it every single day. That's what his job is. And that's why we got to engage our parents. Our parents will hold me accountable. Our parents will hold our mayor accountable, and that is a level of accountability that we accept. So now I have the pleasure to introduce public school parent and Community Education Council District 28 President Vijay Ramjattan. Please welcome him.
Mayor Adams: Thank you. Again, we want to thank, you know, all of those who are here from the Urban League, to activists, and community leaders, to organizations, on building on the importance of renewing mayoral accountability for the next four years. Why don't we open to some on-topics?
Question: Mr. Mayor, the Governor has proposed a four year extension, previously it's been done in three year chunks. There's been some speculation, maybe it should be even less than that. Why specifically is four years necessary right now?
Mayor Adams: We need to finish the term. I think this is a unique moment when you look at the two years of instability. That instability is going to take a real stable plan for the future. And to do it in two, three years chunks, it's just really going to add to that instability. And I think the Governor was right. Let's just give it the four years and have this team do its job.
Question: Just to follow up, there's also the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) President Michael Mulgrew who said we need major reforms as far as governance and PEP (Panel for Educational Policy). Would you accept fewer appointments on PEP for an extension?
Mayor Adams: First of all, I want to take my hat off to Michael. What he has done over COVID, in the partnership, was just unprecedented. With David, Michael, and UFT, and the senior leadership Supervisory Union, we just really coordinated together. So I understand his analysis of it. But if you lose power of the PEP, you lose power of mayoral accountability. It's just going back to the days of really not being clear and on a direction. Clarity is crucial. That's the number one thing I'm hearing from parents, we need clarity on what we're doing. And we need to go to an entity who we're going to state, let's get it right.
Question: With accountability, what sort of plan of accountability would you institute in the chancellor, for superintendents, for principals. You know, NYPD has COMPStat, would you put something in place similar?
Mayor Adams: Yes, I'm going to let the Chancellor also speak to that, but yes, I'm a big believer in EduStat, NYCHAStat. We need real transparency, you know. As a person who was part of the development of the first version, a real-time police technology, I know how important it is. I say it over and over again, you have to inspect what you expect or it's all suspect. And that's what we're faced with right now. Parents should be able to see in real time how my child is trending. The mindset of waiting for annual report cards when it's too late, is just the wrong way to go. The former chancellor started a version of EduStat. We need to get that in place. You should be able to gauge how your child is trending, where they're struggling, so that you get the resources immediately there. We don't have that system in place. It's unbelievable we don't. I argued previously with the previous administration. We're going to put in place EduStat so that parents should know, my child is on the wrong trajectory, so that they can get to resources right away.
Chancellor Banks: I would just say, in addition to that, you heard during my speech last week that we announced that the executive superintendents position will be going away. That is really in response to what we've heard also from parents, from principals, that we're wasting our resources in areas that are not necessary. What we're going to do though, is to fortify the superintendents position, and we're going to hold the superintendents accountable for real results of what's taking place in our schools. And part of the level of accountability that they will be responsible for is how they engage with parents and families and communities. To ensure that that happens, every superintendent is now going to have to reapply for their jobs. It will be opened up to anyone who would like to apply. Our parent organizations and our parents at large will play a role in the selection of the superintendents for their districts. This will not simply be, the chancellor said this is your chance. It's not going to be my superintendents, it's going to be our superintendents. Again, that is because that's part of the DNA that the Mayor and I share. We believe in engagement of parents and families. Now be clear, not every parent agrees with each other. So it's not like just one voice and all the parents wanted this. You put 100 parents in a room, you may get 200 different opinions. Tom Sheppard, I'm sure you would echo that. But that's beside the point. Parents don't always say you have to agree with me. They want to know that they are heard, and that they are involved, and that they are engaged, and they are respected. And in this administration, they absolutely will be.
Question: Talking about accountability, there are thousands of parents right now waiting for clarity on high school admissions. And you have said something could be coming very, very soon. Why so close to the application deadline? And what assurances can you give parents that this is about fairness and not reinventing the high school?
Chancellor Banks: Well, as I came into this position, there had been some admissions criteria that had already been set up and put in place before we got here. We were certainly prepared to move in that regard. But because I had been moving around the city and talking to parents and families, they asked for me to take another look at this. And that is what I've been doing. I have not said that we're changing the decision. We may or we may not. We will have a decision in the next couple of days on the high school admissions. But the easiest thing could have been to say just stay the course, not change at all. But if we're going to be true to what we're saying, that we are listening, and we're hearing – you have parents who have expressed themselves and they said, we know this was not – you know, you didn't put this in place, but we're just asking that you hear us. So that's what I have been doing. I've been doing it every day for the last several weeks. And I'm going to take all of it into consideration. And then ultimately, in the next couple of days, you'll have a decision.
Question: But why change it in the last 72 hours? Aren't you going to then upset the thousands of parents who've already followed the processes?
Chancellor Banks: We may. That's again, my point. You know, every decision, it's not black and white. There's a lot of gray. Some people are gonna be happy, some people won't be. Some families – many families are not happy right now with the way it is. Depending upon the decision that we make, we may have some other families who are not happy, or the same families who are not happy right now may remain unhappy. But we're paid to make the tough decisions, to listen to the community, and ultimately, to make a decision. That is an example of what mayoral accountability is. At least a decision is made, and you can point to who you need to point to to say they made the decision. The old system, you didn't know who to talk to, who you could point to, who you could hold accountable. It doesn't mean that this decision is always what you want. But you know who made the decision.
Mayor Adams: By the way, are those Mets colors that you're wearing?
Question: Mr. Mayor, I am puzzled. I don't understand why there's a need to beseech the legislature to pass mayoral control since every single time it's come up for a vote it has passed, even in the times when we're not happy what De Blasio was doing to them. Why now? And also, those of us who are so old we can remember this, it's never passed as part of the budget. It's always passed after the budget is over because the legislature has been reluctant to consider issues like that in a fiscal plan. Why should it be in the budget? And why now when it's never been a question that it was gonna be passed?
Mayor Adams: Yes, I can just give you one word COVID. COVID has created a level of academic trauma and mental trauma. We must bring stability to the educational system. COVID changed the game. If we don't understand how it has impacted learning and how it has impacted the social emotional development of children, when making a big mistake. There's nothing better we can do for parents and children right now – is to state, this is what to expect in the years to come after coming out of two years of uncertainty.
Question: The reason I'm asking the question is I wonder what the difference is between passing it as part of the budget, which would be by April 1 or in June, which is sometime whenever they get to it, especially given the fact that the idea of going back to those 32 school boards, which you and I both know were dens of corruption, seems to be not a good choice. So why are you worried that you're not going to get mayoral control?
Mayor Adams: We may get mayoral accountability, but what version of it are we going to get? That's the question. If we don't get this done now, what is the version that we're going to get? As some state, turnover the power, the PEP, to, you know, parents. Some state that every year come back. What version are we going to get? So, you know, as a former member of the state law making body, I know that there's no desire of putting policy into the budget, but we have. And when we do it, we send a clear message on what our priorities are.
Question: I'm curious to know, regarding the effects of COVID on the education of our kids, what is the main thing that keeps you up at night, that makes you say, I need to control it?
Mayor Adams: That's a great question. I am really surprised at how much COVID has impacted the mental health of students and parents. We need to really focus and stop ignoring. We want our children to be academically smart, which is important, but the emotional intelligence. What parents and students are going through emotionally, I think that we are missing. It's more than just putting social workers in school. That's a bandaid. We need to really have a clear balance of dealing with some of the mental health issues that our children are experiencing. I'm really concerned about that. And then when I sit down with my experts and they tell me the learning loss, in math in particular, there's a slight drop in reading, but math is a real indicator of the future of our children. I'm really concerned about that. We need to just dig in with some clear plans as the Chancellor and I have been mapping out, you know, without any uncertainty. All of our energy right now should be dealing with the two year learning loss and what the plans are for the future.
Question: So a question for Chancellor Banks. You spoke in your address at the mayoral control hearing about making some changes to the format of the Panel for Educational Policy meetings. Can you talk a little bit about what those changes will be?
Chancellor Banks: Yes, so what I was really talking about was the need to make some changes, I believe, to the format. For those who may not be familiar, the Panel for Educational Policy – we have our meetings there. They generally happen – they start about six o'clock at night and because we try to open it up and hear the voices of all of our parents, they can run very easily to two, three o'clock in the morning. I was on my first one as chancellor a couple of weeks ago and it went to about 1:30 in the morning and I was told that that was an early night. I just said, a couple of hours in, I said, there has to be a better way to do it. So I wasn't making suggestions on what changes to make. I was simply saying, you can't say that we respect parents, and we want to engage parents, and you make people stay up to one, two, three o'clock in the morning to ask a two minute question. That doesn't strike me as the most impactful way to impact, to engage the democratic process.
Chancellor Banks: So a couple of suggestions, I said, well, maybe we do them two nights in a row so nobody has to stay up till three o'clock in the morning. Maybe you do it on Saturday morning. You start at eight o'clock in the morning. That's what we did at Eagle Academy. As the mayor pointed out, we had chancellors in the past who would come and visit us for our parent meetings. And they said, Joel Klein said, I've never seen a school in New York City with this kind of parent turnout. What is it that you're doing? I said, well, one of the things you notice, all of our parent meetings happen on Saturday mornings, because weeknight meetings work best for school personnel, not necessarily for parents. So we did it on Saturday mornings, and the parents said, finally a school that really respects our opinion, Saturday mornings works better for us. I was just offering it up as a suggestion. But what I knew at that moment was nobody's listening to you at three o'clock in the morning. It's not fair. Why would we subject parents and families and even our students, who stay up to participate, in a PEP? Why would we subject them to that? They have to have that level of endurance. It's not fair. It can be done a different way. I was merely suggesting that the members of the PEP and others from the community can come up with some ideas around doing it a better way. To me that's what respecting parents and families and community really means. It's not just my way, well, open it up and let's hear what other people have to say and doing it a different way. If we continue to move the way that we've always done, we'll get the same results. But if you want to have an innovative way of doing things, open it up.
Question: There was a shooting in the Bronx yesterday. Two cops shot at an 18-year-old who was backing his car up towards, it looks like the police officers. I wonder if you think that proper police procedure was followed, as they, you know, two different cops discharged their weapons hitting him in the head?
Mayor Adams: When I received word of the shooting, I immediately said let's download the videos. Let me see it. And the account that you just gave was not the correct account. There was not a backing up, there was just the opposite. The vehicle was driven directly at the police officer. And in the days of – days where vehicles are used in terrorist attacks to drive into crowds. We are dealing with a different moment in policing. We're continuing to train our police officers to deal with how now vehicles are used as weapons to harm innocent people as well as police officers. So this was not a rolling back. This was not a backing up. This was a very clear attempt to drive at a police officer.
Question: So, proper police procedure was followed?
Mayor Adams: That's what's currently being thoroughly investigated. Dissecting every piece of that video. I received a preliminary view of it, but we have [inaudible]. We have all of the experts now looking and dissecting that vehicle. I know many of us remember what happened on the West Side, where you had a terrorist attempt. An individual used a vehicle to mow down innocent people. So when you have individuals running red lights, individuals taking some intentional actions, you have to make that decision. Is this a terrorist attack? Is this an attempt to kill a police officer? And that's what's being analyzed right now.
Question: Do you think this environment where we've already lost two cops this year and there's a lot of anti-police sentiment, that these police officers had the right to feel that they were under attack because somebody was driving right towards them.
Mayor Adams: That's what the investigators are – there's a thorough investigation taking place right now. And again, they're dissecting every aspect of the video. And the Commissioner, we have – I spoke with her over the weekend. I spoke with her again. They're doing a great job to dissect exactly what happened and then make that formal determination.
Question: So parents at Beacon High School in Manhattan were complaining that teachers are requesting that students wear masks. Do you think the teacher should be able to do this? Does this kind of undermine the actual mask policy?
Mayor Adams: I'm sorry, you said that teachers are requesting –
Mayor Adams: Parents.
Question: There's a report that parents were complaining because teachers were asking students – even after you pulled away the masks. You know, asking the kids in the classroom to please put their masks on. So the idea is that, you know, possibly the complaint being that they're undermining what you said by taking the matter into their own hands.
Mayor Adams: I got you. Okay. Number one, we're going to unmask that because we're not going to bully students and we're not going to run several school systems. The message came from the Mayor and the Chancellor that children don't have to wear masks in schools. If children want to wear masks in schools, they can do so. But we're not going to have teachers within one school system telling students they have to put on a mask. That is not going to happen. There is one chancellor. There is one mayor. There are thousands of teachers and if each one wants to have their own policy, that cannot happen in our school system. So we're going to identify that. That may be just a rumor because you know, rumors run rampant. But if that actually happened, that teacher is going to be reinstructed. That is not acceptable.
Question: Has your thought process about mayoral control changed since you were a state senator and you had to decide on it?
Mayor Adams: Yes, yes, it has. It has evolved a lot. I was really concerned under the first time we voted for it that we were going to see a system where we didn't allow parents to be engaged. That's the number one thing. Every critic you hear, that's the number one thing they say. Parent engagement. I believe we could have done a better job under the first 12 years of it and the previous eight years of it. And because of those mistakes I made it clear to the Chancellor, when I was looking for a chancellor, I used to sneak into his PTA meetings to see, was he engaging parents? I questioned him on that. And it was clear that the number one concern I had and that critics had, David got it right. No one was better at engaging parents like David was doing. So I was pleased. Those fears I had were set aside.
Question: 56 percent of children are fully vaccinated in New York City. What are you doing about that? Are you satisfied with only 56 percent?
Mayor Adams: No, no, I'm not. And we met with a committee today. We have to reach those young people. You know how it is being young. You feel invincible. You know, it's like not me. But no, I'm not happy about those numbers. We’re going to do an advertisement campaign. We're going to get on the ground and do a focus group with young people to find out how do we reach them in a real way. We have to get those numbers up. We need to, you know – we have 75 percent of adults with double dosage, about 80 percent with single – we have to get those numbers up. We have to get them vaccinated and parents must play a role. We need to help. The more vaccinated individuals we have, the better we could do. Okay, gotta bounce.