Lisa Donlan

diy meeting

New York

Leonie Haimson exits public school parenting but not advocacy

Leonie Haimson at a rally last month outside of the Tweed Courthouse. Leonie Haimson's career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch. But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took. Many of Haimson’s close friends and colleagues in the parent advocacy world have known for months about the change in her status. But she did not make it known publicly until today, after learning that GothamSchools planned to disclose the information in a story. “I myself don’t think it is either particularly interesting or relevant,” she wrote in a post on the blog she started in 2007, NYC Public School Parents, before going on to explain the choice. "It is a parent’s responsibility to find a school that they believe best fits their children’s needs," Haimson wrote in a statement she sent to GothamSchools before publishing her own post. The disclosure caught some other advocates off guard. "I'm surprised," said Sheila Kaplan, a student data privacy advocate who has worked with Haimson in recent months. “She’s never said anything about her kids being in private schools.” After shaping much of her identity around her role as a public school parent, decamping from the city’s public schools puts Haimson in a delicate situation. It also opens her up to questions from her many opponents in the polarized education policy debate.
New York

Charter parents' inclusion call yields a bill but not city support

Charter Parent Action Network Director Valerie Babb addresses charter school parents and students in Albany. (Photo courtesy of the New York City Charter School Center) An annual caravan of charter school parents to Albany took place today with a specific mission: convince legislators to approve a bill allowing charter parents to run for the city's local parent councils. It's a battle that charter advocates will have to fight without the Department of Education's help. The city has never supported allowing charter parents to run for parent councils, even as it has encouraged the proliferation of charter schools and allowed them to operate in district space. State law requires that each school district in the city field an elected parent council, known as a Community Education Council, to provide an avenue for parents to weigh in on schools policy. Some of the council's duties, such as presiding over public hearings about co-locations, involve charter school issues. But the Bloomberg administration has constrained the councils' authority and their only statutory function is to redraw school zone lines, which do not affect charter schools. They do not actually approve or reject co-locations. Still, the CECs are seen as one of the few formal venues for parents to voice opinions about department policies, and charter school parents see the exclusion as an equity issue. They have convinced two legislators — Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, and State Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn — to introduce a bill that would reserve one of the 11 seats on each council for a charter parent. "In order to protect our children and their continued access to a great public education, charter parents need and deserve a seat at the table to help inform the decisions about the schools in their neighborhoods," said Valerie Babb, director of the Charter Parents Action Network, in a statement. "By supporting this legislation, our lawmakers will send a strong signal to families that their voices carry just as much weight as other public school parents in their districts."
New York

Randi Weingarten under fire for mayoral control position

Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) A group of parent activists and union members is expressing anger with teachers union leader Randi Weingarten, telling her that she has dropped the ball in fighting for checks to the mayor's power over schools. The frustration began with a May 21 New York Post column, in which Weingarten indicated that she is open to allowing the mayor to continue appointing a majority of members to the citywide school board. A union task force recommended in February that the state legislature reverse that majority as a way to strengthen the board, known as the Panel for Education Policy or PEP. Weingarten's Post op/ed dismayed some members of her own union. "I was quite disappointed and angry, actually," said Lisa North, a teacher who sat on the union's task force to consider revisions to mayoral control. North said the task force never seriously considered recommending that the mayor keep his majority of appointments, and so when union delegates ratified the committee's final recommendations, she expected Weingarten to promote them. "The delegate assembly is supposed to be the highest authority of the union, and it voted for it," she said. In an interview today, Weingarten acknowledged that people have reached out to her with concerns about her position, including her own union members. "I did get a couple of e-mails from members saying, 'Why are you doing what you're doing?'" she said. She said that she empathizes with those concerns. "I totally and completely understand and concur with the frustrations that many have that this mayor and this chancellor have not listened to and respected enough the voices of those who go to our schools, their parents, and those who teach them," she said. But she also said that she has to weigh concerns about checking the mayor's power against the reasons she supported giving the mayor control in 2002. "It's always been a balance of stability, cohesion, and responsibility, which is what mayoral control brought us, and modifying it to create sufficient checks and balances and transparency," Weingarten said.