Panelists urge multi-front solutions to combat effects of poverty on school children

by Editorial Team

Thu, 22 Oct 2015:

New York, NY – October 21, 2015

New York Deputy Mayor Richard Buery rues the polarization and “toxic” politics that often mark discussions about how to help children living in poverty get the education they deserve. But today, he was part of a solution-oriented session – at Teaching Matters’ 7th Annual Champions of Innovation and Education Luncheon – that yielded much agreement about the depth of the problem, and available remedies.  

The deputy mayor was joined by former principal Kamar Samuels, Senior Director for Special Initiatives and Partnerships in the NYCDOE Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships, and Lynette Guastaferro, Teaching Matters’ Executive Director, who for two years led Teaching Matters’ NYCDOE network of 27 schools. CNN’s Kelly Wallace moderated the panel.

A common theme was the holistic nature of the challenge poverty presents, affecting everything from health, to safety, to the vocabulary children have when they first arrive at school. Universal Pre-K, beefed up support to teachers engaged in early education, after-school opportunities, and community schools are all part of the solution mix.

Kamar Samuels called the need to meet students’ educational needs “the civil rights issue of our time.” During his years as a principal of a Bronx middle school, he saw a 4-fold increase in the number of homeless students, from about 25 in temporary housing when he began his tenure, to 105 this past year. To address the burgeoning needs, he says teachers need to have time to work as teams, looking at the precise adjustments necessary to help their students learn.

Guastaferro also stressed the importance of teaching excellence in closing the overall opportunity gap, and she noted that the challenge for high poverty schools is intense, because they have more turnover and less experienced staff than their wealthier counterparts. She warned against a “blame the teacher” approach, saying instead that “There are systems for supporting kids, and there are systems for supporting teachers.” She mentioned the importance of developing teacher leadership within buildings, so that teachers with the most expertise can spread their knowledge, and have career ladders that boost teacher retention.

Teaching Matters gave this year’s Champion of Innovation and Education award to Buery, who is Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. Buery spearheaded New York City’s Universal Pre-K initiative, and as former leader of the Children’s Aid Society, was instrumental in developing community schools around New York.

Nationally, the percentage of children in public schools from low-income homes is now over 50%. In New York City public schools, about 80% of students are economically disadvantaged. The schools in which Teaching Matters works have even greater numbers of impoverished students. The percentage of homeless students has skyrocketed, up over 60% in the last four years, now reaching 84,000.


Teaching Matters is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing teacher effectiveness, one of the most critical factors in student success. Our services transform how educators work together at urban public schools, helping the most effective teachers develop the skills they need to lead their peers and drive school-wide improvement. We also partner with school leadership to create a work environment that equips teachers to succeed in the classroom. From nearly 20 years of working in New York City’s public schools, we’ve developed an understanding of realistic and lasting ways to improve student outcomes, and we’re committed to real, measurable results. Visit to learn more about how we’re making a difference for students and teachers at public schools.