Farina answered questions on a variety of education issues, including expanding Gifted and Talented (G&T) classes, addressing overcrowded classrooms, and helping students with disabilities.
Dozens of parents packed the auditorium for the meeting, which was organized by the Community Education Council (CEC) for District 24. The council kicked off the town hall by asking Farina how the DOE would support teachers implementing the state’s “Next Generation Learning Standards,” which was passed by the Board of Regents in September.
Farina said the DOE is providing teachers with 80 minutes of professional development time. Over the summer, they trained 7,000 teachers.
“All the teachers, they have the books and lesson plans they need,” Farina said.
CEC 24 member Jo Ann Berger asked Farina why students with disabilities in the district have shown little improvement in their test scores. Farina countered that the scores have improved, but “obviously we want more.”
The chancellor said she’s encouraging more schools to move toward Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) programs, which offers two teachers and a parent in a classroom for students with disabilities. After hearing complaints that some ICT teachers weren’t trained properly, Farina also pushed to retrain all ICT teachers in teams.
“We’re doing the trainings so ICT teachers learn to work together and know what their responsibilities are,” she said. “The research is that kids learn better in ICT classrooms.”
The first question from the audience concerned bringing Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs to Elmhurst schools because neighborhood students often have to travel to another neighborhood for the program.
Farina said that right now, adding more G&T is “is not in the cards,” and that DOE is focused on adding the programs in districts that don’t have any.
Instead, she said the DOE is encouraging all schools to do more enrichment programs and project-based learning.
“Where I do think we need to go is how do we make all our students have the advantages in her home schools,” she said.
Another important issue the chancellor addressed was school overcrowding. Farina acknowledged that District 25 is one of the most overcrowded districts, but said it’s a school-by-school decision.
She also discussed the lack of mental health counselors and resources in schools. For years, Farina said the topic of mental health was “taboo” and no one wanted to acknowledge it.
“The reality is, it really is an epidemic in ways you can’t imagine,” Farina said. “This one weighs very deep on my mind.”
She said some elementary students already have suicidal thoughts, and when coupled with a rising foster care population and families that are often split up, there are going to be “some real issues.”
Farina agreed that the city needed more people, but wondered where they would get the money.
“You need the right people to help families,” she said. “We want to start training parents on how to have conversations with kids on this deep stuff.”