After only two months on the job, Banks called the school system broken. He said 120,000 families left the city public school system in the past five years.
"You wrap your mind around that for a moment, 120,000 families decided to vote with their feet," Banks said. "And that's an indictment of the work that we have done."
And he said most left before the pandemic began.
He believes the only way to stop the hemorrhaging is to rebuild trust with families.
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"We will not transform this system from the top down, it will only be transformed from the bottom up, by talking to parents, students, teachers our principals, they have all the answers," he said.
Banks vowed to cut the red tape and get back to basics, including teaching kids to read.
He noted that there is a man who regularly stands outside Tweed Courthouse holding a sign about teaching students to read. "He's brilliant in his simplicity and it's profound," he said. "Teach the kids to read."
Repeating a frequent refrain, Banks blasted the bureaucracy of the Education Department.
"I've met really smart committed people putting in long hours," Banks said. "And yet the results we have as a school system is completely dysfunctional."
In one major initiative targeting the bureaucracy, Banks announced he is eliminating the executive superintendent position, created by former schools Chancellor Carmen Farina.
He will instead "booster" the superintendent position to give them more power and funds.
"We have not gotten the level of value added to our schools that is needed in that position," the chancellor said.
Banks discussed the four pillars of the school system.
- "Reimagining the student experience" to make students more eager to attend school and to graduate them with a pathway to the middle class.
- Scale and sustain things that work. Find the schools with practices that work and spread that news throughout the city. He plans to will bring back a program created by Chancellor Farina to showcase schools that work.
- Prioritize wellness and its impact on student success, like healthy meals, a particular focus of the mayor. "Healthy food. It's really, really important. That's not just about meatless Mondays or vegan Fridays. But it's about educating our young people about how to eat properly. You have to get to them at the earliest ages to make that happen."
- Partnerships with parents "as true partners in the work we are doing. I want to make sure that our parents are part of this process, and not a photo op after the decision have already been made."
Banks added that he didn't come into this position for a job.
"I didn't come here for a job, I already had a job, I had a good job, I loved the work I was doing at Eagle Academy, it was transformative work, talking about the issues of black and brown boys, who sit at the bottom of all the indicators," he said.
In September, he plans to open a virtual academy. He says if schools shut down again due to COVID, teachers and principals can look to that experience and lessons learned.
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