During an impassioned speech Thursday morning, incoming schools chancellor David C. Banks promised to shake up the New York City Department of Education by shifting resources from the agency’s bureaucracy to classrooms and engaging the community in all policy decisions.
“We spend $38 billion every year in this system,” Banks said, referring to the DOE’s budget, “and 65% of Black and brown children never achieve proficiency. That's a betrayal… You can get those results without a Department of Education. So what’s the value-add for having thousands of people working at Tweed,” the DOE’s central office.
Standing outside P.S. 161 in Crown Heights, the elementary school he attended as a child, and surrounded by relatives, colleagues and former students, Banks spoke in sweeping, somewhat abstract terms about his vision for schools.
“Don’t ask me about Gifted and Talented today, that’s not what today is about,” Banks said. “Don’t ask me about specialized high schools, we’re going to have answers for all of that. Today is a day to celebrate what will be a rebirth of the department.”
Mayor-elect Eric Adams formally announced his selection of Banks at the event, the first appointment to his administration which starts on January 1st.
“David Banks is ready for this. I didn’t have to do a national search and find someone who doesn’t understand our city,” Adams said. “For eight years I questioned him.”
Banks was widely known to be the leading contender for the education department’s top job and has already spent weeks meeting with stakeholders in preparation for his appointment. He and his family have close ties to Adams: Not only was Banks a co-chair of Adams’ education transition committee, his brother, former NYPD official Philip Banks, has been advising the mayor-elect, and his partner, United Way of NYC president Sheena Wright, is leading Adams’ entire transition.
He will replace current Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter who is stepping down at the end of the month to lead the Bronx Community Foundation in the new year.
Banks was a teacher and principal before founding a network of public schools called the Eagle Academies for Young Men, which seeks to boost academic outcomes for male students, especially boys of color, by fostering tight communities within schools and insulating kids from the dangers of surrounding challenged neighborhoods. The schools also emphasize traditions, including daily libation ceremonies, and encourage a sense of brotherhood during an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. school day.
In recent years, debates over school policy have centered around the system’s persistent segregation and how to overcome it. But neither Banks nor Adams spoke about integration or diversity initiatives during their first press conference together.
Instead they spoke about increasing opportunity, particularly for students of color, by recognizing all students’ potential, engaging parents, and offering kids real world skills, from civics lessons to workforce training.
At a time when many educators are burnt out, Banks said he will also keep their needs top of mind. “We don’t lift our teachers up, we don’t celebrate our teachers, we just constantly beat them down in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “I want you to know that I see you and I respect you.”
Banks added, “Change is coming.”