Harlem needs a parent, school and community partnership to make sounds Public School Education

By Galen D. Kirkland

I attended Harlem public schools and got an effective education at PS 197 and JHS 139 in the 1960s.

I became a lawyer after earning a scholarship to Dartmouth College and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. I know from experience that public schools in Harlem can work. Yet, all these years later, thousands of young people attending public schools in Harlem are not getting the good education to which they are entitled. This destructive situation can be reversed through a serious working partnership between parents, schools and the community as a whole.

This essential cooperative triad can progressively emphasize central issues such as class size, adequate school staff, appropriate teaching materials, and creating a culture of love for learning. Although many public school parents actively support the schools their children attend, the sad truth is that parental involvement is woefully insufficient. There is a lot of work to be done to engage the parents who are essential for academic success. Community organizations, churches, and other non-governmental organizations can help by offering support to Harlem Public Schools in a variety of ways that will make a difference in the student experience.

For example, the Harlem Council of Elders, Inc. (HCE) offered support to PS 175, PS 197 and Junior High School 43 with a series of classroom presentations by people of various professions, assembly presentations, field trips and after-school programs. For seven years, HCE sponsored “Men Reading to Children” at PS 175 where men from a variety of backgrounds read to elementary school students and answered their questions. Doctors at Harlem Hospital taught anatomy after school with students interested in science at the same elementary school.

Community organizations can also advocate for educational justice for Harlem public schools. Over the past seven years, HCE’s advocacy has focused primarily on the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) failure to comply with the regulations of the State of Education Commissioner of New York that require schools to provide adequate access to school media librarians in public middle and high schools. In 2015, the DOE verified that more than 77% of Harlem high schools in Districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 were denying their students access to media librarians. HCE’s most recent analysis of available pre-pandemic data indicates that nearly 90% of Harlem schools serving one or more grades 7-12 continue to violate the rights of school librarians of nearly 10,000 students of Harlem.

We all have the opportunity to fight to provide Harlem public school students with a strong and effective education. Those who choose to be passive observers of the failure of public education in Harlem are turning their backs on the young people who deserve our help. (*Galen D. Kirkland is president of the Harlem Council of Elders, Inc. and former commissioner of the New York City Division of Human Rights.)

Galen Kirkland

Galen Kirkland. Commissioner in the NYS Division of Human Rights. New York State Division of Human Rights. Bronx, New York. Among other roles, Kirkland has also served as New York State Assistant Attorney General, Tenant Representative on the New York State Rent Guidelines Board, Executive Director of the NYC Civil Rights Coalition, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York and vice president and general counsel of the West Harlem community organization. https://www.linkedin.com/in/galen-kirkland-70567218

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Photo credit: Tito_Puente, PS117 in Harlem, NY.

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