On April 6, Bank Street College of Education hosted a virtual conversation with David C. Banks, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, to discuss his vision for New York City public schools following his appointment to the role in early 2022.
Moderated by Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, the discussion welcomed nearly 300 attendees who tuned in from across the city. During the event, Banks shared insight into how—in partnership with Mayor Eric Adams—his team’s work will focus on leveraging the city’s annual $38 billion budget to help improve education outcomes for all students and transform the city’s school system. Banks and members of his leadership team also fielded questions on social-emotional support for students, bilingual programs, special education, and career and technical education.
“When I first heard that David Banks would be our next Chancellor, I was both excited and hopeful. He has been working his whole career to build a more equitable school system in New York City,” said Polakow-Suransky. “Chancellor Banks’ work at every level of our school system and his deep ties to communities across our city are powerful assets as he leads the effort to rebuild from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.”
Banks, former President and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, the founding principal of The Eagle Academy for Young Men, and a graduate of New York City public schools, began the talk by framing his education vision with four pillars: engaging parents, families, and communities as partners; prioritizing wellness and its impact on student success; scaling, sustaining, and restoring programs that work; and reimagining the school experience to support a successful future in the 21st century.
“Many of our children are suffering from a level of stress, depression, and so many other ailments which have affected them, and … the school system at large is now called upon to be responsive to all of those kids and to our teachers who have also suffered greatly throughout this pandemic,” said Banks about the issue of social-emotional health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During recent school visits, Banks noted that he observed students and teachers engaging in mindfulness, adding that the practice is a crucial lifelong skill in helping children learn how to cope with stress and trauma and one that his administration plans to invest in. To further support students, Banks announced that the administration has provided funding for every school to hire at least one social worker.
Additionally, the Chancellor spoke about the importance of school culture and its impact on students. He highlighted the role of strong student-teacher relationships in affirming identities, a belief that echoes Bank Street’s approach to teaching and learning which, as Polakow-Suransky explained in his introductory remarks, focuses on supporting the whole child and centering relationships.
“When you have a culture that is strong and is loving and is nurturing, our kids are going to be okay. When the students who attend our schools know that there’s at least one adult in the building who knows them and deeply cares about them, it makes all the difference in the world,” said Banks. “Being able to set a level of architecture within our schools that will allow for that nurturance to happen, where students don’t feel like they’re just a number but they are somebody and they are cared for, that is ultimately how you get to the place of dealing with mental challenges and awareness.”
Banks also discussed improving reading and literacy in schools through an approach that focuses on teaching young students phonics in order to help ensure that every child will learn to read by third grade.
Following the presentation, Banks and his leadership team, including Carolyne V. Quintana, GSE ’08, Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning; Christina Foti, Deputy Chief Academic Officer for Special Education; Dr. Jawana M. Johnson, Chief of School Culture, Climate, and Well-Being; and Jade Grieve, Chief of Student Pathways, responded to various questions from attendees.
During the question-and-answer session, Johnson spoke about social-emotional supports for both children and adults, noting that it is crucial for adults to “put our own masks on first so that we can support and we can ensure that our young people show up in their best and authentic selves.”
In response to a question about supporting English language learners, Quintana discussed expanding and improving bilingual programs while identifying and elevating practices that work, reflecting the Chancellor’s earlier emphasis on scaling and sustaining effective programs.
Next, Foti responded to questions about special education, explaining that the administration is working to “improve the provision of services and the quality of instruction that our students with IEPs receive.” She added, “Critical and key to that are our special educators and so, in addition to partnerships with our wonderful establishments such as Bank Street, we’re working to make sure that these partnerships are in place so that we can get the highest quality educators.”
Building on Banks’ response to a question about career education, Grieve stated, “We really want to see all young people with the opportunity through our public schools to, yes, get access to a rigorous academic foundation, but in addition to that to ensure that we’re giving them the opportunities to build real skills that we know are necessary for success in the 21st century economy—financial literacy, digital literacy and fluency, and certainly career readiness—making sure that all young people have the chance to build a strong dynamic plan for what they want to do.”
The event was co-sponsored by Bank Street College of Education, Progressive Education Network of New York, and New York Performance Standards Consortium.
“Bank Street donors care deeply about how their support can help drive real improvements in the effectiveness of education for all children, especially those in the New York City public schools,” said Sandra Pinnavaia, Trustee, Bank Street College. “The virtual event provided a valuable opportunity to learn more about Chancellor Banks’ vision and reflect on the ways in which Bank Street’s mission can support our city’s schools, teachers, and students moving forward.”