Op-Ed: Building Strong Schools Through Community Engagement

By NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

With over 50 years of experience as an educator, I know that it truly takes a village to deliver for students. In each school community, that village is made up of teachers, administrators, support staff, outside partners and of course, families. While I often say it all comes down to what happens in the classroom, when it comes to building strong school communities, families are critical partners.

That’s why, as Chancellor, I’ve made family engagement a priority for all of our schools, and there has been an unprecedented investment in families. Whether we’re bringing parents into the classroom to teach robotics, inviting parents to learn English alongside their children, or providing professional development to parent leaders, we’re constantly rolling out innovative programs that provide unique opportunities for parents to get involved in schools.

My message to all parents, grandparents, family members or alumni reading this: school buildings are neighborhood hubs and I encourage you to get involved, spend time at your local school and invest in the next generation of leaders. From PA/PTA President to field trip chaperone to mentor, only when the village is engaged in school-based activities, events and decision-making, can we foster the development of a community deeply committed to the success of our students.

And when we invest in families, they want to invest in us. That’s why we’ve increased our outreach to families. When I became Chancellor four years ago, requiring all schools to host at least one Parent-Teacher Conference at night and extending meeting time to accommodate working families were no-brainers. As a result of these efforts, the number of parents attending family conferences increased by 43 percent since 2013. We’ve also removed barriers for families that speak a language other than English at home by expanding our translation and interpretation services in over 200 languages.

The opportunities in New York City are endless, and Career Day events, mentorship programs and beautification projects help us bring those opportunities into schools and classrooms, and expose our students to endless possibilities. For example, alumni from the Bronx spent a Saturday morning painting classrooms and planting a garden at the Longwood Preparatory Academy. This is one of many ways the millions of former New York City public school students are getting involved through P.S. Alumni.

All across the world, our alumni are doing amazing things: starting businesses, investing in their communities and raising families. P.S. Alumni taps into the incredible network of mentors, volunteers and advocates ready to give back and help students find success.

For alumni who are also parents of current public school students, it’s time to get involved. You know firsthand the important role that education plays throughout your life and why it’s so important to build a strong foundation. Whether you’re volunteering to do a read-aloud in your child’s class, or speaking at your alma mater for College Awareness Day, now is the time to share your experience and help shape the next class into the future leaders of this City and of the world.

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That work starts in your neighborhood and at your local school. The doors are always open.

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