De Blasio administration takes pre-K victory lap
Mayor Bill de Blasio took a five-borough victory lap Thursday for his universal pre-kindergarten program, the signature initiative of his administration.
De Blasio, accompanied by his wife Chirlane McCray, schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, and a group of council members, borough presidents and other elected officials, visited five schools, one in each borough—a first day of school tradition for mayors and chancellors.
Three of the five schools were pre-K centers, and each of the five choices carried a political message.
The mayor built treehouses out of blocks at the Sacred Heart School on Staten Island, a Catholic school with an expanded pre-K program, a recognition of the controversy over pre-K options in parochial schools. He played Simon Says in a second grade Spanish language classroom at Amber Charter School in East Harlem, an acknowledgement of his administration's battle over charter space earlier this year.
De Blasio played with linking plastic fish at Inner Force Tots, a community-based pre-K program (C.B.O.) in East New York, and reminded reporters of his goal to bring pre-K to low-income neighborhoods, a longstanding promise of his administration. He discussed sea creatures with 4-year-olds at Home Sweet Home, another pre-K C.B.O. in Flushing Meadows, a populous Queens neigbhorhood he identified earlier this year as desperately in need of more pre-K spots.
(He paused for lunch, devouring chicken and rice from a Styrofoam plate, at Journey Prep School in the Bronx.)
At each visit over a nine-hour tour of the five boroughs, de Blasio talked about his satisfaction with the rollout of the pre-K program, and expressed emotion at what was once a longshot campaign proposal coming to fruition.
De Blasio and McCray repeatedly described the day as emotional, noting that it was their son Dante's last day of high school (and 17th birthday). McCray appeared to choke up with emotion at a press conference at Inner Force Tots, the first stop of the day.
"For Chirlane and I this is a moment of fulfillment," de Blasio said.
He remembered when he announced his intention to implement universal pre-K during a campaign speech on October 4, 2012. "There was a respectful air of incredulity," de Blasio said.
The mayor and his allies spent much of the day pointing out how far they'd come.
Despite a recent stream of concerns about the health and safety of the pre-K programs, no significant issues at the city's 1,700 pre-K centers were reported as of Thursday evening.
The mayor announced Thursday that 14 of the 36 pre-K centers with delayed opening dates will open their doors on Monday, a number that could rise by the end of Friday. A city official also said that 152 children from the nine pre-K centers that were abruptly closed earlier this week have been re-located to other pre-K centers. 265 children in total were dislocated as a result of the closures; the official said many other parents were reviewing placement options offered by the Department of Education.
De Blasio, Department of Education officials, and administration allies all declared the first day of pre-K a success and congratulated each other for the implementation. Jonathan Rosen, the co-founder of BerlinRosen, the firm that helped get de Blasio elected, praised Josh Wallack, a top D.O.E. official, on Twitter for "an incredibly smooth first day." Fariña thanked the D.O.E. employees who had worked till midnight and through weekends on the effort; Richard Buery, a deputy mayor who has overseen the entire pre-K roll-out, thanked his staff and City Hall colleagues.
One de Blasio spokesperson noted that Michael McKeon, who ran a superPAC for former de Blasio foe Joe Lhota, tweeted his "props to Bill de Blasio for [a] successful day."
Randi Levine, the project director of Advocate for Children's Early Childhood Education Project, which focuses on special education children, told Capital their back-to-school hotline had been relatively calm on Thursday, with few parents calling in to report pre-K issues.
But the de Blasio administration also got a reminder from another citywide official that there was still logistical work to do on the rollout.
City comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the administration last week for not delivering hundreds of pre-K contracts for review, said the D.O.E. needed "to get its act together" and deliver the remainder of the contracts. Stringer's office said Thursday that their office had received 190 pre-K contracts out of over 500, and registered 105 of those contracts. Wiley Norvell, a de Blasio spokesman, disputed those figures, saying they do not account for pre-K contracts delivered to the comptroller's office by the Administration for Children's Services (A.C.S.).
De Blasio took a shot at Stringer on Thursday when asked about the comptroller's remarks, saying, "I think it's time for people who want to be constructive to work with us on solving problems and moving forward, instead of just finding criticisms for no particular reason."
And Council of School Supervisors & Administrators president Ernest Logan emailed his members—the city's principals—to point out that he was not visiting pre-K centers with the mayor due to a contract dispute with the city over retroactive pay.
The back-and-forth did not seem to spoil de Blasio's mood on Thursday.
"This is an historic day," he said at Inner Force Tots in Brooklyn. "A day that will have reverberations that play out over years and years and years."