NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — More than a million New York City children headed back to school Thursday as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina welcomed students back to class.
Mayor de Blasio greeted streams of prekindergarten students Thursday on the first day of his ambitious expansion of early childhood education.
“Everything that we’ve done over the last few years is working toward this day,” de Blasio said after visiting a classroom at Inner Force Tots in Brooklyn, a community-based organization that’s part of the pre-K program. “For Chirlane and I, this is a moment of fulfillment — a dream we’ve had for a long time finally came to fruition.”
He said full-day pre-K “is one of the fundamental ways to shake the foundation of this school system.”
“There was a great movie once that said, ‘if you build it, they will come.’ I think we knew we could build it, I think we knew people wanted and believed in it,” de Blasio said. “It would take a lot of perseverance, but it was the right thing to do.”
City officials said 51,500 full-day pre-K students were enrolled as of Monday, up from 20,000 last year. They said the number will be up to 53,000 by the end of the month.
De Blasio, who made expanded pre-K the main theme of his mayoral campaign last year, planned to celebrate his achievement by touring pre-K sites in all five boroughs.
He emphasized that early childhood education now can pay off later.
“[If] every kid is doing well, it frees up a little more time for teachers to spend with kids who need a little more help,” de Blasio said.
“This is a place that, for many of our kids, is life-saving. This is not just about education,” added Farina. “I think also just looking at the parents who are standing here and their smiles and the fact that they are satisfied with what’s happening is also a great indicator.”
Parents at Inner Force Tots said they were thrilled to have access to publicly funded pre-K.
“It’s a relief to bring her here,” said Mbango Arnold, dropping off daughter Binta. “It’s free, which is a big help. I’m glad this is happening.”
“That small age is when they tend to soak up everything, so it’s pretty cool,” another parent told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern. “I’m really excited.”
Many of the city’s new pre-K seats are in religious schools that have been given guidelines on keeping religious instruction out of their public-school classes.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan joined de Blasio at the Sacred Heart School on Staten Island, which has tripled its pre-K capacity this year.
“Mayor, I have bad news,” Dolan joked. “We missed the snack.”
Appearing with Dolan appeared to give the mayor divine inspiration in describing the city’s advancement in its pre-K program, CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.
“Cardinal, I know you’re able to invoke a higher authority. This being done in under six months may classify as a miracle, OK?”
De Blasio told a Sacred Heart student who was building a treehouse with blocks, “You’re an architect, you know that? You’re building a house.”
And as he went from classroom to classroom, the mayor was in high spirits – first, because it was a campaign promise kept, and second, because it was an achievement regarded by many as a major step in laying the foundation for improving the quality of education.
“What we’re doing today will be felt in the city not only a decade from now — two decades from now; three decades from now, as we have more kids graduating from high school on time; more kids getting into college; more kids going into work productively,” de Blasio said.
The victory lap was meant to calm fears that the city might be expanding pre-K too rapidly.
City officials announced earlier this week that nine pre-K centers wouldn’t open and start dates of 36 others would be delayed. Safety and integrity concerns were behind the decision to revoke contracts at the nine centers, which were to serve 265 students.
“We came to the conclusion that either because of health and safety or qualitative issues, those programs should not open this year,” de Blasio said earlier this week. “To all the parents who are concerned, every child will get a seat. That is guaranteed.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer continued to raise questions, saying that the city has dragged its feet in giving him pre-K contracts to conduct an independent review, CBS 2’s Kramer reported.
He said so far, he has received less than 200 of the 500 contracts.
“I think that the administration and the Department of Education has to get their act together and get us these contracts so that I can do a proper review,” Stringer said. “My job is to take a fresh look at those contracts and look at violations in the light.”
Of the 265 kids with no place to go, officials said Wednesday they had found seats for 125.
Thursday was also the first day of school for most of the rest of the city’s 1.1 million public school students; some charter schools started earlier.
As CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported, Jonah Price, 6, was excited for the first day of elementary school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. He woke up hours before his parents Thursday morning.
“He’s been up, excited, since 5:30 this morning,” said his mother, Nancy Price.
Jonah will be attending P.S. 24 in the Bronx for the next five years, and his mother said she cried – overwhelmed with emotion and pride. Jonah was one of the 1.1 million students across New York City who returned to class Thursday.
Another, Laila Ortiz, said she was excited to start third grade at Public School 33 in Chelsea.
“I’m starting to get smarter and better at other things,” Laila said.
For many students, the start of school means it’s back to early mornings and routine.
“This morning, I got up at like 10 minutes to 6,” one third-grader in Brooklyn told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane.
For student Amber Daniel, who moved from Connecticut to Brooklyn over the summer, the new school year means new opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to learning again, and starting a new year; making new friends; furthering my education,” she said.
Fifth-grader Rowan McCurdy and her father, Michael McCurdy, came to school bearing bouquets.
“We bring the flowers for the teacher, and that’s for the principal,” Michael McCurdy said. “We do it every year.”
And as excited as the kids were to go back, some of the parents who spoke to CBS 2 were just as enthusiastic if not more.
“It feels so good dropping them back off. I get to relax and sleep all day, and then go to work tomorrow,” said Tiffany Cox of Brownsville.
It was also the last first day of school for de Blasio’s son Dante, who will have to commute from Manhattan to Brooklyn Tech High School in Fort Greene.
The city’s first family moved into Gracie Mansion from their home in Park Slope over the summer.
Next year, Dante will be going off to college.
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