By Ava Stryker-Robbins
On Wednesday, March 30th, newly appointed Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor David Banks joined the District 3 Community Education Council (CEC3) via Zoom for a discussion of his vision for New York City public schools.
Banks, who founded The Eagle Academy for Young Men—the first school in a network of all-boys NYC public schools—spoke of having personally “played all the roles” in the school system. “I was a public school student from kindergarten all the way through to 12th grade, and…I’ve been a teacher and principal.”
Banks acknowledged the challenge the school system faces as a result of losing 120,000 families over the last five years, a decline that began even before the pandemic. “My job more than anything else, is to recreate the kinds of programs and initiatives that would drive parents to come back,” he said.
Throughout the meeting, Banks emphasized that the DOE is not a “one size fits all system,” and is consistently working to reform itself to meet the needs of a diverse population. He aims to increase rigor within all NYC schools, he said, expressing concern that the media often focuses on Specialized High Schools and Gifted & Talented (G&T) programs rather than students in “regular” public schools.
He said that the DOE is investing recovery funds in trying to catch kids up given what has happened as a result of the pandemic. He also emphasized the need to build foundational skills at an earlier age so students do not fall far behind in the first place. He doesn’t want students to only learn how to take tests, but to receive “an engaging and stimulating education,” he said. “I think New York City kids should be encouraged to get around New York City, visit some of the great museums and wonders that we have across the city.”
Some of the topics covered were:
Gifted & Talented Program — Banks plans to expand G&T programs throughout the city, and said he will be making an announcement within the next week or so. He stated that G&T programs will not be eliminated at the Kindergarten level, but said he prefers testing older children, as research does not support the validity of testing four-year-olds.
Reduced class sizes — Banks said the DOE has made “significant investments” to reduce class sizes across the city—not solely in certain school districts — an issue Banks views as a “top priority.” In order to increase the number of seats in “good” public schools, he said that he and Mayor Adams want to build more Specialized schools. He said he does not plan on changing the admissions process for the current Specialized High Schools, though new schools may not have the same admissions criteria.
High School — A longtime source of frustration among parents who apply to public and private/religious high schools has been that these other high schools require a commitment before public school admissions are announced. In response to a parent asking if he would be open to giving public high school results earlier, Banks said “the answer…is yes.”
Career Exposure — Banks spoke of the importance of career focus among high schoolers: “I want all students to get a level of exposure to Career and Technical Education.” He went on to say “I want them to have an opportunity to get internships at places like Google or Microsoft, an investment bank, an architectural firm, or a biotechnology lab….I want them to be on a path to the middle class and beyond.”
“I’m here because I’m deeply committed as a New Yorker,” Banks concluded. “I love this city. I love the people of this city, and I just want to do the best job I can.” He said the way to do that is to act based on ideas that “come from our parents, our families, and our kids themselves.”