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Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese is his own education advisor

GothamSchools is profiling the education policy advisors to each mayoral candidate.

When asked who advises Sal Albanese‘s mayoral campaign on education policy matters, communications director Todd Brogan pointed to the candidate himself.

An Italian immigrant who moved to Brooklyn at the age of eight, Albanese has been a student, teacher, and policy maker in the city’s schools, giving him a perspective that is unique among the crowded field of Democratic mayoral candidates.

Albanese said it was the city’s schools, libraries, and sports programs that helped elevate his family from the working class to the middle class.

“I want to do the same thing for future generations of New Yorkers. That’s why I’m running for mayor,” he said.

Albanese served on the City Council for 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s, sitting on the public safety, education, and transportation committees. Before that, he taught for 11 years, mostly at Park Slope’s John Jay High School, where he also earned his high school diploma. Albanese ran for mayor in 1997 and placed third in the Democratic primary.

In an interview at Albanese’s downtown Brooklyn headquarters, Albanese answered questions about school accountability, his greatest accomplishments as a city councilman, and some of his ideas for improving education in New York City.

In broad strokes, what would you do as mayor on education policy?

My emphasis would be on early intervention, creating a department for early learning and establishing pediatric wellness centers in lower income communities around the city. Because we now know that poverty causes stress and stress causes developmental issues. These young people are coming into our school buildings way behind at four or five years of age. I want to intervene early on. I want a multidisciplinary approach, with doctors, parents and teachers working together. As soon as a child is born. So when they come into our schools, they’re at the same par with middle class kids and upper class kids. Because it’s not an issue of IQ. It’s the fact that poverty is very stressful and overwhelms people. So these pediatric wellness centers will be a cornerstone of my administration because I think it’s political malpractice to not intervene early on.

The second thing I would focus on is teacher training and support. I want to make student teaching a real experience where you do intensive work, so at the end of your senior year of college, when you have that license, you come into schools prepared to teach. I was not [prepared.] I had a cursory experience as a student teacher at Springfield Garden High School. It was very intimidating when I walked into that school. I want to make sure every young person who comes into our system is well trained to teach from day one. Then for the next couple years, I want to provide mentors and support mechanisms and feedback so they can become better teachers.

What were your two biggest education policy accomplishments when you were on the City Council?

I worked hard with parent groups around the city. I published a report on parental involvement, which laid out a number of proposals to get parents involved in our schools, because they’re essential. It was well received by parent groups around city. I chaired a subcommittee on parental involvement. It worked to at least have a blue print for having principals make parental involvement a focal point of running a school instead of discouraging them to get involved. … That was something I was proud of.

The other aspect I’m proud of, I passed a law, which some people don’t like, but it created random drug testing for school bus drivers. Because that was not in effect then. And I think that helped to save lives.

Unfortunately, my involvement was limited to some of those peripheral issues because I didn’t chair the committee. I thought I should’ve been able to chair the committee because I was the only teacher on the committee, but because of my independence on the City Council, that really counted against me. Every single year I pushed hard for education funding when I was there to make sure it got the priority that it should have received.

What do you think of John Jay High School today?

It’s tough to make a comparison. Because in those days, large high schools were the rule of thumb. Today, it’s a mixed bag. A large high school could be as good as small schools. I think small schools have more of an advantage because you can get that personal touch between teachers and students and the principal. But there are large schools that function very, very well, as long as the resources are there. At John Jay when I went to school there, we didn’t have enough guidance counselors, but we had varied activities — there was a band, a football team, a sports program, an art program. Those are the things that have been cut. I’m not a big believer that the small model is the best. We have great examples of both, as long as resources are there and class size is manageable and facilities are up to snuff.

Have you seen anything positive on education policy in the last 12 years during Bloomberg’s administration?

They’ve done some good things. Especially, initially, his first two terms I think he treated teachers fairly when it came to contracts. And then all of a sudden, his third term, he’s just turned that around and made teachers scapegoats.

His first two terms, he did acknowledge that teachers have to be compensated fairly. We have to pay people enough so that they can live in the city and survive. He did raise salaries his first two terms. So I think that was a good thing. And I also believe that he made some effort to focus on early intervention, but not enough. I want to go further than that. I think he should have created a department for early learning. I know they were considering it, but they didn’t do it. So we’re still missing the boat when it comes to early intervention.

Your message seems to jive with what a lot of parents and teachers say they want. Why aren’t you polling better?

I’m still an unknown quantity. We have four months left before the election and people will get to know me, they’ll get to know my record. As I speak around the city, we’re generating more and more interest in our campaign. By Sept. 10, which is primary day, people will know the Sal Albanese record on education and we’re gonna draw a lot of support and I believe we’re gonna win the election. The polls now don’t mean anything. In 1977, there were seven candidates. [Former Mayor Ed] Koch and [Mario] Cuomo were below 5 percent in May and they ended up in a runoff.

Correction: This piece has been updated to reflect the correct title for Todd Brogan. He is the Albanese campaign’s communications director, not the campaign manager.

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