Mayor discusses ed issues at town hall meeting

Mayor de Blasio speaks to northwest Bronx residents during a February 21 town hall meeting in Kingsbridge.
Photo Courtesy of Robert Christie

Education took center stage during Mayor de Blasio’s Tuesday, February 22 Northwest Bronx Town Hall at In-Tech Academy in Kingsbridge.

De Blasio fielded questions on overcrowding and special education.

The mayor began the evening by touting some of his successes since taking office including Universal Pre-K and the rate of graduation for high school students.

According to de Blasio, there are now more than 70,000 preschoolers enrolled in Universal Pre-k, compared to the 20,000 that were in pre-K when he took office.

DeBlasio also said 72.6 percent of students are graduating from high school – the highest rate in city history – while adding that the dropout rate had dropped to 8 percent – the lowest rate in city history.

He added that 15 years ago the rate of graduation was under 50 percent.

“That’s how quickly we’re moving in this city,” he added.

Despite victories for the de Blasio administration, residents of the city’s School District 10 are still having issues.

Elizabeth Thompson, president of the Kingsbridge Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association, asked the mayor how he would help with overcrowding in schools within District 10.

Thompson pointed specifically to schools such as P.S. 307, P.S. 86, P.S. 340 and the Walton High School Campus.

De Blasio said Lorraine Grillo, president of the city’s school construction authority, has been planning for a long time to add seats to the district.

“We want to work closely with the elected officials to find the appropriate locations and we need help nailing down those locations,” said de Blasio.

“Right now in District 10 there is funding for 456 new seats that we’d love to create in the areas of overcrowding,” Grillo said following de Blasio.

She reiterated that the city first has to find the proper buildings in which they can place the seats.

Grillo also agreed that the elementary schools and middle schools Thompson mentioned are overcrowded but said Walton High School has not reached full capacity.

“What we hope you do is give us help,” said Grillo. “You guys are on the ground and we’d love for you to identify sites and we’d love to explore and investigate anything you give us.”

Eric Dinowitz, a special education teacher at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music, said the special education teachers at the school are stretched thin.

Dinowitz said his students – who deal with many issues including homelessness and mental health problems – need more mental health support.

He also pointed out that while the mayor has implemented programs for younger students … there aren’t much programs for older, special-ed students.

He also spoke to Grillo’s point that the School of Music – which sits on the Walton High School Campus – may not be at full capacity.

“There are certainly not enough staff members to support these students in the way they need to be supported,” said Dinowitz.

In response de Blasio pointed to NYC Well, the city’s mental health support system to which any person suffering from mental health issues can call and receive help.

In addition, de Blasio said the school’s are working their way up through the grade levels to make sure each teacher is receiving mental health support training.

Reach Reporter Robert Christie at (718) 260-4591. E-mail him at rchristie@cnglocal.com.

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