We, the co-sponsors of the recent Queens Education Forum, jointly extend our thanks to Council Member and Democratic nominee for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards for sharing his vision on education and other issues of great concern to families in Queens as well as the wider New York City community. As we believe Council Member Richards recognizes, the diversity and educational priorities of the co-sponsors truly reflect the diversity of Queens and the educational hopes and wishes of Queens’ residents.
We applaud and share Council Member Richards’ positions on:
- Increasing number of school seats in Queens where there is a severe shortage of more than 15,000 seats.
- Expanding Gifted and Talented and academically rigorous programs especially in low income school districts in large sections of Queens where there are zero or only one program.
- Specialized High Schools
- Expanding the number of STEM-focused Specialized High Schools in Queens and across the city.
- Reaching out to families to inform them of these schools.
- Providing tutoring programs to help students prepare for the admissions test.
- Administering the test to every 8th grade student with choice to opt-out.
- Investing in after school, mentoring and counseling programs to keep students engaged and on the right track (in the same way Mr. Richards was helped by a counselor when he was younger).
- Providing language access to non-English speaking families to get communications from the DOE.
- Importance of school safety and the vital roles of School Safety Officers and scanners in ensuring student, teacher and staff safety in schools.
- Importance of any transformative plans (such as Diversity Plans) to come from the community to be built bottom up and not top down.
- Importance of equal access to school resources.
However, there are areas over which we respectfully disagree with CM Richards but seek continued dialogue. He does not believe in the SHSAT as the sole admissions criteria to the Specialized High Schools. Instead, he believes in changing it to multiple criteria to include grades and other factors. While highly selective and high performing schools use this form of admissions criteria — Townsend Harris High School as an example cited by CM Richards, these schools have also been shown to disadvantage students from low-income, immigrant, non-English speaking homes.
Together with CM Richards, we wish to explore ways to increase access and opportunity for all students to enroll at Specialized High Schools such as more flexibility for students to take the SHSAT. These include having multiple test dates, testing during the school day, holding the test in all middle schools and allowing students to take the test multiple times and using the best score.
We thank CM Richards for giving us his valuable time, sharing his honest insights and answering some of our tough questions on education and other policies. We hope that we will be able to continue to engage and exchange our views with the future Queens Borough President so that he will have a strong relationship and partnership with his constituents.