An Exclusive Interview with City Councilman Eric Dinowitz
Mathilda Simons and Sophie Brettschneider, Grade 9, Staff Writers
The elections on November 7, 2021, were not as highly publicized as they have been in the past, but their significance still remains. Everyone in New York City will be affected by these changes to the city government, including students at the High School of American Studies. The Mayor, new city council, borough presidents, and other administrative officials have the power to make an important range of decisions, many of which influence students directly.
One controversial issue in this year's election was whether or not specialized high schools like HSAS should continue to exist, seeing as many of these schools lack diversity. Eric Adams, the new mayor, previously supported Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plan to completely scrap the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), but has since backtracked, stating his support for the continuation of the current SHSAT model.
The new city council member for HSAS’s district, Eric Dinowitz, also commented on this issue. “All students do not learn in the same way, and all students do not excel at test-taking,” he said. Regardless, he “does not believe that the SHSAT should be removed, as some students excel with exams.” As an alumnus of a specialized high school himself, he “deeply appreciates that specialized high schools play a key role for our students to realize their potential, and can offer a world-class education.”
Instead of entirely removing the SHSAT, Dinowitz suggested that the city “expand the number of specialized high schools and programs to become more inclusive, and provide more opportunities to New York City’s one million students.” Dinowitz added that, “More attention should be paid to the years of development and education that exist before a student ever sits for the SHSAT.”
Dinowitz recognizes the inequitable nature of the SHSAT schools, but he believes the issue can be resolved through more inclusive preparation and an increase in the number of specialized high schools. While he doesn’t specify how this will specifically help underrepresented demographics, it will allow for a greater number of students to have access to high-quality education.
Another relevant topic during this year's campaign cycle was how schools will address and prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the center of this issue is the debate over vaccine mandates. Dinowitz expressed his approval for vaccine mandates in school.“Science has proven that these vaccines are safe and effective in saving lives,” he said.
Eric Adams said he wants to revisit certain issues regarding vaccines but supports a vaccine mandate for students. He also wants to create a remote learning option, which could be used by families who do not feel comfortable having their children vaccinated.
Additionally, Dinowitz expressed a strong stance on addressing students’ mental health, especially during the pandemic. “A mandatory class on mental health would be a great start, but social-emotional learning should be a key aspect for every class a child attends and be integrated into all curricula,” he said. “Students must be equipped to handle stress, learn goal-setting, and identify and properly address their emotions.”
Other council members, including Mark Treyger of District 47, have also pushed for more social-emotional resources.
Dinowitz is also committed to helping homeless children and those living in shelter systems. He has publicly advocated for the hiring of 150 dedicated coordinators to help thousands of students experiencing homelessness receive better access to education.
As for the arts and athletics, Dinowtiz believes they are “integral to the education of our students,” and through directory funding, he has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to non-profit organizations that can provide students with these services.
Council Member Mathieu Eugene of District 40 has also partnered with non-profit organizations to expand the arts and athletics. He partnered with Youth Education and Sports, bringing their program to thousands of Brooklyn children, and wants to continue to do so.
The new changes brought about by the recent elections will affect everyone and everything within New York City, including the school system and HSAS itself. It opened up discussions regarding a vast array of issues, from the SHSAT and the continued existence of specialized high schools to social-emotional learning and arts and athletics.
The recent changes to the NYC government are bound to affect students in profound ways.