South Bronx parents create improvement plan for failing school district

A new community-driven District Improvement Plan is being developed for South Bronx.

Last Saturday more than a 100 parents, students, teachers, principals, and elected officials came together for the District 9 Rising Community Forum, the first event of its kind.

District 9 has a long history of academic failure, and for the last seven years has been what the New York State Education Department considers a “District in Need of Improvement.”

Parents noted that the District 9 Comprehensive Education Plan, which is supposed to guide improvement efforts, was created without meaningful community participation, has many errors and uses data that is five years old. Those who attended Saturday’s event spent most of the day in working groups, creating the building blocks for a new plan.

Ronnette Summers, a longtime member of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee (PAC), explained, “We organized this forum because we believe that the best way to improve schools in District 9 is to get input from the people who are most affected: parents, teachers, students, and community members. Our district is in a state of emergency and our voices have been ignored for far too long.”

Guillermina De Jesus, another PAC member, said it was troubling as a parent to know her two sons attend a “School in Need of Improvement,” but she was even more concerned about the bigger picture. “I could move my kids to another school,” she said, “but if the majority of schools in the area are in trouble, where am I supposed to move them to? That’s why we’re fighting to improve the district as a whole, so that all the schools are providing our children with the education they deserve.”

Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson (77th AD) and State Senator Gustavo Rivera (33rd SD), both of whom represent parts of District 9, were co-sponsors of the forum, and addressed the crowd on Saturday. “This forum is an opportunity for action – a time for parents and community residents to join in developing a plan that addresses the needs of underperforming schools throughout Bronx School District 9,” Assemblywoman Gibson said.

Senator Rivera also expressed his support. “The answer is not going to come from the Department of Education; it’s going to come from the community,” he said, adding, “What you are doing could and should become a model.”

In addition to presentations of the key recommendations from each of the six working groups, the audience was treated to poetry and dance performances by local youth.

Parent speakers ended the day by urging all present to continue to be involved in developing the District Improvement Plan and pushing for it to be implemented. “Now that we have a vision of what we need,” said Michelle Reyes, “It’s time to work to make it a reality.”

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