Without parent involvement, NYC Mayor de Blasio’s $150 community school plan is bound to fail

Lost in the middle of the midterm election coverage this week was a major press conference on Monday by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing a $150 million infusion into the Big Apple’s 94 worst performing schools, creating community schools.

What is a community school?   Officially named “The School Renewal Program,”

the Mayor calls it his “whole child, whole school, whole community” concept. By “whole child” he means that schools will not just meet students’ academic needs but “all of their needs.”

In addition to providing children with books, desks, and supplies, they will also be given free food, including a pantry, free medical care for both physical and mental needs, weekly check-ups by dentists including cleanings, and free eyeglasses. One school already has a washer and dryer for families to use.

Frankly, it is surprising the bill for this “whole” thing is only $150 million.

This is a significant proposal.   Not in terms of money, but in terms of influence.

If the nation’s largest public school system is headed in this direction, how many more districts will follow suit?

The only thing that these schools will not be doing is clothe and house the students.   Hey, why not just build dormitories on school campuses?   Having students live directly on school property would cut down the tardies. Sure, the living quarters may take away playground space, but kids these days have little time to be kids; they need to be inside, on computers, learning the Common Core standards.

A cradle to career approach is a disturbing trend where the government takes care of children from the time that they are born through their entire K-16 schooling and beyond. Schools will evolve into social service hubs, their original role as learning centers receding.

The view that schools should do more than just teach kids is nothing new. As an extension to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), President Obama signed the Community Eligibility Provision in 2010 allowing school districts to provide free or reduced-fee lunches to all students.   This program feeds 31 million school children each day costing $11.6 billion.   The cost has almost doubled since 2000 when it was at $6.1 billion.

This year Chicago Public Schools, the third largest in the nation, is expected to serve 72 million breakfast and lunch meals.

Statewide, 58% of school children participate in NSLP, 66.2% in Los Angeles County.

Public schools rarely seem to have sufficient funds as it is.   If monies that should go into higher teacher salaries, improved school facilities, and up to date computer technology get diverted into paying doctors, dentists, washers, and dryers, the future of America’s public schools may be bleaker than it already is.

Politicians excel at concocting education initiatives for failing schools without addressing the root of the problem:   at-home parenting.

Mayor de Blasio plans on holding the principals and teachers accountable, but no where in his speech did he speak of the accountability of the parents.   You know, parents who are supposed to rear their children, feed and house them, and, yes, push them to do well in school.

Parent involvement is not just attending PTA meetings; it is talking to their children, checking their homework, partnering with the teacher.

Without parent involvement, no amount of money or ideas to fix struggling schools will ever work.

The old saying about give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime needs to apply here.

Our Kind of Town, Chicago is

This summer my 15-year-old son and I traveled to Chicago in order to see Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary before major renovations change the baseball stadium.

We decided to make the whole trip “Vintage Chicago” by visiting not just the 2nd oldest ballpark in the nation but the longest standing eateries and shops as well.

As soon as we arrived at Midway Airport, we stopped for a traditional Chicago hot dog at Gold Coast Dogs.  I had the traditional char dog with neon green relish, tomato, pickle, and mustard on a poppy seed bun.   My son had his usual ketchup and onions even though a satirical sign posted read that anyone using ketchup on a dog would be arrested (he wasn’t, just kidded a lot by the server).

We stayed at the boutique Talbott Hotel which has been in the city since 1927.   It is a wonderful establishment with friendly staff from the doorman to the concierge.

Luckliy, we met a wonderful old timey cab driver, Phil, a citizen of 50 years and a cabbie for 25.   He took us to two special doughnut shops:    Do-Rite Doughnuts and Doughnut Vault.

When planning our trip, I researched the 25 best doughnuts places in the U.S., and Chicago happened to have 4 of those places (the other 2 were too far away from our hotel). The doughnuts at Do-Rite rank among the best I’ve ever eaten.  I can’t comment on the Vault’s doughnuts because is was still closed at 7:30 a.m.

Our first dinner was at Pizzeria Uno which originated the famous Chicago deep dish pizza in 1943.   This was the only disappointing eatery.    I found the crust over done, and my son could barely eat his.    This is an example of a place that may have originated a particular meal that doesn’t necessarily make the best version of that meal.

When I was last in Chicago nearly 30 years ago, breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s make an impression. At that time, Mr. Mitchell was still alive personally handing out small boxes of Milk Duds to the ladies, “Sweets for the Sweet!”

The best part of Lou Mitchell’s, established in 1923, is the atmosphere including the seasoned waitresses.   When our server found out we were headed to the original location of Margie’s Candies, she got very excited.

After breakfast, we walked across the street to the historic Union Station building.    Then we took the El train 15 minutes north to Margie’s Candies.

Margie’s has two locations but we wanted to visit the original location.   Clearly, the neighborhood around the small establishment had changed over the decades since the store opened in 1933.   Inside the cramped store was an authentic soda fountain in addition to its chocolate candy counter.   As a lifetime Los Angeles resident I’ve gotten spoiled by See’s Candies, still the box of chocolates around.   Still, Margie’s was good.

Then it was time to go to Wrigley Field.   The dixieland band playing outside the ballpark got added to the festive atmosphere.   One of the most wonderful things about Wrigley besides the obvious 100 years of its history is the minimum amount of visual and aural noise that has become epidemic at nearly all professional sports complexes.   What a pleasure to mainly hear an organ playing and to have giant video screens with commercials between innings.   

Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch were members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (made famous in the film “A League of Their Own”).   Also present was the granddaughter of the man who planted the famous ivy against the outfield wall.

For dinner we headed out a 20-minute cab ride to the White Palace Grill, opened since 1939.   As far as diners go, it was pretty average, nothing special.    The crunchy hash browns were delicious.

Our final day in the Windy City was a whirlwind tour of city highlights.   We began with a morning architectural Chicago River cruise.   It was very informative; even my son recalled specific architectural styles when we walked city streets later on.

For lunch we went to the Billy Goat Tavern, serving burgers since 1934.  Those of you old enough to remember the early seasons of Saturday Night Live may recall the “cheezburger, cheezburger” skit which was based on the long-standing eatery.  Sure enough, the man at the cashier sounded just like John Belushi, “You want a double-cheeseburger, double-cheeseburger for you.”   Just getting to the Billy Goat Tavern is an adventure.   Good luck with GPS helping you to locate the right staircase off Michigan Avenue to go subterranean.   

We then headed over to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears).   Since my son had been to the top of the Empire State Building, the Space Needle, and the Eiffel Tower, we had to add this to his repertoire.   At the top of the building, they have a clear cubicle that extends a few feet out so that you can look beneath you at 1,353 feet.

Finally we visited the Museum of Science and Industry which opened in 1933.   My son is not a museum kid.   He’d rather watch a PBS special on the brain than look at art.   I knew my choice was a success when he unsolicitedly said “I like this museum” twice.   We went into the real coal mine, an original exhibit dating to the museum’s origin.   We also enjoyed looking at the German U-505 sub that was captured in World War Two.

Our best meal was our last dinner at Gene and Georgetti, the oldest traditional steakhouse in town founded in 1941.   The food and the service were topnotch.

I’d highly recommend a Vintage Chicago trip.   Nowadays there are so many of the same restaurants and stores that it is worth an effort to research some of the less trendy destinations that were responsible for putting bustling cities such as Chicago on the map.