November 3, 2011
This story originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario, which supplied the translation.
The city’s school system has a new person in charge of helping the parents of the 1.1 million children in public schools. The problem is that many have not heard of him since he was appointed last July.
After three months in his role as “chief parent” of the New York City Department of Education, organizations that defend parents’ interests said they have not yet heard from Jesse Mojica and do not have knowledge of his plans to improve the troublesome relationship between the department and families throughout the city.
Mojica was recruited in July by new Chancellor Dennis Walcott to occupy the $138,000 a year position as executive director of the office of Family and Community Engagement.
Placida Rodriguez, from the parent action group Make the Road New York, an organization based in Queens and Brooklyn, expressed her dissatisfaction at the little attention Mojica has paid so far.
“Basically I have had no contact with Jesse Mojica,” said Rodriguez.“I think he at least should have communicated with different groups,” she added.
Marilu Rodriguez, community organizer for the organization Cypress Hills Advocates for Education in Brooklyn, has not heard from him either.
“The only thing I know is that he is not focusing on the needs of our schools and our children, he only follows the DOE’s orders. And at the same time, not only has the DOE not made unfair decisions, but they are also manipulated by Bloomberg,” Rodriguez said.
The emerging hostility from these leaders towards Mojica is an unexpected turn from the enthusiasm that followed his appointment, which was seen as an opportunity for Walcott — who became chancellor in April — to initiate a different approach towards parents, many of which are discontented with their limited participation in the design of school policies.
“I worked with Mojica for years when he was in the Bronx, and I know he is a strong advocate for parents, but since he gained this new position I have not spoken with him,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, one of the city’s main organizations advocating for parents education policy.
Jose Gonzalez, a member of the United Parents of Highbridge, in the Bronx, also expressed some dissatisfaction.
“I know how dedicated [Mojica] is and that he takes parent’s rights seriously,” said Gonzalez. “But I think that there has been no action yet, it’s a lot of talk. At the community level, the local level, we see inefficiency in parental involvement.”
“We still have not seen visible progress and no benefits,” added Gonzalez, who is bothered by what he calls violations of parental rights by some school principals.
Millie Bonilla, of the Coalition for Educational Justice, said she knew Mojica’s work in the Bronx and “his capacity to help parents” and that they are in talks to set up a meeting.
Repeated requests for interviews with Mojica, made beginning in July and until last week, have been ignored or rejected by the DOE.
Last Wednesday, however, Mojica accompanied Walcott to a meeting in a high school in Manhattan, to discuss how to improve communication between the DOE and parents, particularly in light of discontent stemming from the policy to close low-performing schools.
When asked during the meeting about his apparent disconnect with groups of parents, Mojica defended himself saying that although he was appointed in July, he officially began working on Aug. 23, and assured that he has met with various groups of parent leaders in schools in four boroughs and that he has plans to visit other in Staten Island, which he has yet to visit, he said.
El Diario is New York City’s oldest and largest Spanish-language newspaper. Read more education news from El Diario.