Wednesday evening was the first meeting since Mayor Bill de Blasio took control of the city's Panel for Educational Policy, and, like several of the new mayor's decisions, his education panel appointments came down to the wire. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
A small, supportive crowd greeted Wednesday new Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Panel for Educational Policy, the board charged with voting to approve many of the most controversial decisions facing the Department of Education.
The monthly meeting, required by state law, almost seemed like it wasn't going to happen. The mayor appoints the majority of the panel, and up until 19 minutes before the meeting was supposed to start, Mayor Bill de Blasio hadn't announced any members.
Just as people were taking their seats, City Hall named the first five of de Blasio's eight picks, and said the remaining three would be appointed soon. Each borough president also selects one member.
"I'd like to say, it's a pleasure to be here," Fariña said. "And I better say it today 'cause I don't know what the other evenings from now on will be like."
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the meetings occasionally drew thousands of protesters - teachers, parents and students, angry over issues like whether struggling schools should be closed or charters given rent-free space. Yet, in 12 years, the panel never rejected a single proposal from the Department of Education.
The first meeting under the de Blasio administration was much more calm. Of course, it helps that there was nothing on the agenda.
Many on the panel were once in the audience, frustrated with Bloomberg policies. Now, they say they want to look out for groups that have traditionally struggled.
"My real passion, and I'll be honest, is special needs," said one member of the panel.
"Parent participation, and to make it real across the system," said another.
"I want to make sure that we elevate voices that are often overlooked or unheard, especially immigrant parents, English language learners," said a third.
Nearly all of the 28 members of the public who signed up to speak had warm words of welcome. However, starting as soon as next month, the panel will face familiar controversies. The chancellor said she's considering whether to reverse decisions approved in the last months of the Bloomberg administration, including new schools set to open in September and charters given space in public school buildings.