New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks has been at the forefront of many initiatives to advance the city’s educational framework. From bolstering literacy and addressing dyslexia to the introduction of Project Pivot, accommodating migrant students, and ensuring school safety, his vision has consistently prioritized comprehensive student welfare and academic excellence.
In an exclusive interview with LittleAfrica News, Chancellor Banks provided detailed insights into the various programs and strategies implemented under his leadership, showcasing a holistic approach to education in New York City.
Under Banks’ leadership, NYC schools introduced “NYC Reads,” a universal curriculum for early childhood school programs. Its objective is to strengthen student literacy and reading instruction in the city’s elementary schools and early childhood programs.
The goal is to reverse declining reading levels and ensure that every student reads at their grade level by the third grade.
Banks noted that the city schools had previously adopted a balanced literacy approach, which he described as a new progressive method for teaching. However, because of this method, many young students had difficulty becoming proficient readers and often did not develop a love for reading.
He shared a concerning statistic: 51% of New York City public school students don’t read on grade level. Furthermore, this percentage is even higher at 64% for Black and Brown children.
Banks emphasized the importance of establishing a solid foundation to nurture a love for reading in children. He elaborated, “I’d liken it to building a house starting on the second floor. If you don’t build the foundation first, the house will crumble.”
The “NYC Reads” program aims to address this by focusing not only on Phonics but also on vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension.
To support this initiative, the administration is training teachers across the city. So far, half of the school district’s teachers have been trained and are in phase one of the program’s implementation.
“We are going back to something that’s called the ‘science of reading’,…And in doing that, we vetted a whole host of curriculum,” Banks explained.
Three distinct curriculums have been introduced, with the “creative curriculum” being designated for all early childhood programs. This shift seeks to create a standardized curriculum across districts.
Banks believes that a single program will benefit both students and teachers. For instance, if a student moves to a different district, they’ll encounter the same curriculum. Similarly, teachers can benefit from this consistency, enabling them to support, coach, and train one another more effectively.
“I’m more excited about this than anything else that we’re doing because I truly believe that we can get our kids back on track, giving them the core foundation of good readers by the third grade,” Banks stated.
Beyond reading, when asked to bring back teaching cursive writing, Banks emphasized the importance of cursive writing and critical thinking for student growth, expressing hope to introduce these programs in the near future.
Banks also stressed the importance of involving parents in their children’s educational journey.
He stated, “Parents must be integral to the entire school experience. They’re not just an add-on; they should be celebrated and honored.”
Turning to the issue of dyslexia, last year, New York City Public Schools launched a program that includes universal screeners across various grade levels. The program’s objective is to identify students with reading challenges.
“We have thousands of our young people who are dyslexic. Many of them don’t even know it as well. They’ve not been properly diagnosed,” Banks shared. This program was launched to identify these students and then provide specialists to assist them in their learning journey.
The Chancellor stated, “It’s all part of our overall literacy work, primarily focused in kindergarten all the way through grade nine is where we’ve done most of this screening for our kids for dyslexia.”
In response to this challenge, the city has established schools primarily focused on helping children who suffer from dyslexia.
The Chancellor mentioned that the city plans to expand its dyslexia program to assist students and collaborate with private schools specializing in this area.
Under the guidance of the current New York City administration, a significant program, Project Pivot, has been initiated. This endeavor is designed to grant students added support and resources, aiding them towards academic triumph and social-emotional well-being.
Project Pivot forms a fundamental part of the NYC Public Schools reimagining of school safety—the initiative partners schools with community-based organizations (CBO) providing direct interventions.
These CBOs specialize in various services, from safety and violence prevention, student leadership, and career readiness to counseling, mentoring, and other enrichment programs like sports and arts.
Chancellor Banks highlighted the rapid progress of Project Pivot, which has already expanded to 250 schools in its second year.
Emphasizing its significance, Banks noted that the initiative establishes a team that connects with the community, primarily involving people of color.
He said, “They’re doing a wide range of things from mentoring students to providing additional tutoring and academic support to being a big brother, big sister, providing safe passage to school, safe passage on away from home, from school, and providing supports for parents. It is the community coming to support the community.”
However, Banks also flagged budget constraints, a critical aspect to ensure the program’s continuity. Yet, he remains optimistic, stating that Project Pivot is determined to foster a stronger community.
The influx of migrants and their children arriving since last spring has presented another significant challenge for New York City. Currently, the city school system has enrolled 26,000 migrant students. For Banks, however, incorporating these students into the system has been manageable.
He noted that five years before his tenure as Chancellor, the city’s schools lost 120,000 students for various reasons. Therefore, there’s room in the schools, and Banks is keen to welcome more students to fill this void.
Banks acknowledges the language barrier and cultural shifts as the primary challenges for these new arrivals. In response to this, the city introduced the “Open Arms” project.
The initiative is focused on welcoming these students and ensuring sufficient staff members, including teachers and other personnel, who speak their languages, ensuring both a smooth academic transition for students and supportive assistance for their families.
He dismissed concerns about these new students hindering the learning process of others, emphasizing that with a bit of extra support, these children quickly adapt.
“These kids come to school every day. They’re working hard and are hungry for a better life. They’re even easier to teach because they’re so earnest,” said the Chancellor.
NYC has also revised its regulations to better accommodate bilingual teachers, a move beneficial for migrant students.
Previously, a teacher who held a language license in addition to their primary subject license couldn’t teach language classes without sacrificing their previous teaching tenure.
With the updated regulations, teachers currently employed in schools and possessing a language license can now teach language classes without risking their tenure.
Addressing concerns about school safety, Chancellor Banks pointed out that, aside from occasional student altercations, major incidents have been rare recently.
He stated, “Inside of our schools have been really safe. We have not had a lot of major incidents.”
Banks called for greater parental and community involvement to address concerns like weapons in schools, stating, “Every parent should participate in their local precinct council meeting.”
He emphasized that these meetings, where the precinct’s commanding officer and the community come together, are invaluable for maintaining safety.
However, he noted that most parents, especially Black and Brown parents, do not participate in these monthly meetings.
Banks concluded by emphasizing the community’s collective responsibility in ensuring the children’s safety.
He remarked, “The village has to raise the children. The village has to keep the kids safe. That means all of us have to be paying attention.”