By Alex Kratz
Maria Fernandez (center), an organizer with a new education advocacy group called A+NYC, talks school reform priorities with people on the group’s tricked out tour bus during a stop at the Bronx Library Center in Kingsbridge last month. (Photo by Alex Kratz)
Frustrated by the Department of Education’s policies under the control of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a coalition of community groups calling itself A+NYC is looking for a fresh start under the next mayor.
But before the new organization, which includes several Bronx groups, including the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and Sistas and Brothas United, began pushing its agenda, it went on a months-long citywide outreach tour to solicit ideas and figure out priorities.
Last month, following 75 visioning events throughout the five boroughs, A+NYC launched a bus tour to finalize its priorities, promote its efforts to this year’s crop of mayoral candidates and register voters.
On a snowy Saturday afternoon in mid-March, the bus, an old-school yellow bus painted teal, parked in front of the Bronx Library Center in Kingsbridge. Inside, underneath a cloud-dotted ceiling, organizer Maria Fernandez talked to random people whose interest was sparked by the colorful bus.
The group A+NYC customized this bus for its cross-borough education reform tour, stopping at the Bronx Library Center in Kingsbridge on a Saturday in mid-March. (Photo by Alex Kratz)
Most of the seats on the bus had been removed and the interior was divided into separate rooms. On the walls were case studies and platforms discussed at the visioning sessions. Each platform included a small ballot box. Fernandez told people on the bus to place tickets into the platforms they believed were most important.
“We’re asking people, ‘Did we get it right?’” Fernandez said about the purpose of the bus tour.
They’re also trying to do what they believe the DOE does not: engage communities, especially those in poorer neighborhoods with high populations of minority students.
Though Bloomberg touts a higher four-year graduation rate as proof his policies are working, Fernandez says there’s also proof that they are failing.
“We know [Bloomberg’s policies] aren’t working because, after 12 years, only 13 percent of black and Latino students are college ready when they graduate,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said the plan is to push the finalized education platforms into the mayoral campaign conversation. Already, at least four Democratic candidates have visited the bus.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 4-17 print edition of the Norwood News.