(I wrote the following in 2006 – the tragedy in Connecticut forces us to ask
whether NYC provides critical social services to kids and families in light of
years of drastic budget cuts.)
The Death of SPYFSS: Tweed Abandons At Risk Children
August 11, 2006
Teachers do the best job they can in schools that are shrouded in the mists of poverty and social anarchy. My wife was driving to a school meeting early one morning in the late seventies with Ed Muir, the first UFT Safety Director, he looked out the window and announced, “There’s nothing like the smell of burning buildings on a fall morning.”
The Bronx was burning. You could see across blocks of burned and abandoned building, and the only viable buildings were schools.
The crack epidemic unraveled social structure and destroyed a generation: and the greatest impact was on most defenseless, the children.
Whether it be crack or AIDs or gangs, or alcoholism: we teach the youngest victims, the children who enter their havens, the schools, and return to chaos that surrounds school buildings. In spite of all the obstacles teachers do heroic jobs and many kids survive and prosper.
One of the encouraging aspects of the Children First Bloomberg initiative was the creation of an office in each region that dealt with issues apart from teaching and learning. The Student Placement, Youth and Family Support Services (SPYFSS) Office shared space with each regional office and reported directly to a Deputy Chancellor at Tweed. They focused on Attendance, Guidance, Children in Homeless Shelters, Student Suspension, Home Schooling, Drug Prevention, Parent Support, Community Based Organizations, Health Issues, i.e., the range of crucial issues beyond the scope of the classroom but impacting mightily on classroom performance.
Although the Tweed leadership changed, Lester Young, an experienced Community Superintendent left after a year and some SYPFSS offices were unwelcoming others became a beacon for schools.
Organizing Health Fairs in housing projects with high incidences of diabetes and obesity, creating collaborative “solutions” for schools with attendance issues, high quality school driven professional development for guidance counselors, and most importantly, working together with schools to resolve problems of individual kids and their families.
As these pages have so astutely noted critics of public schools, usually with no teaching experience, shunt aside the realities of poverty.
The NY Sun reports on a Blomberg commissioned study on how to “tackle” poverty, a commission member described a “Starbuck’s one-stop” approach to help New Yorkers to access city services. David Jones, the CEO of the Community Service Society says he “pressed for youth programs to reach 16-to 24 year olds who are not working or in schools.”
However, the Tweed consultants, have decided the answer is to downsize student support services. Half the SPYFSS offices are being closed, that’s right closed, and the remaining five offices are having their name changed to Office of Youth Development, with over two hundred schools per office. A range of services previously provided by the offices will be shifted to regional offices. The same offices that Klein has dismissed in his efforts to promote the new Empowerment Schools.
The consulting firm making these decisions is also redesigning the New Orleans School System and basically creating a new Charter school system along with a British company that redesigned school in the United Kingdom.
Lets see if I have this right: the Mayor’s Commission wants to target at risk 16 to 24 years olds while the Mayor’s Department of Education wants to abandon them.
Consultants are paid millions of dollars and the opinion of classroom teachers, parents and kids are ignored. I’m sure the flow charts, the new designs, the power points are really impressive and I’m sure all the authors of these secret reports have fancy degrees from MBA programs. Tomorrow or next week they will submit their report and move on their next job.
Kids, parents and teachers will still be here, having to clean up the Augean stables they have left behind.