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Mayor Bill de Blasio, wife greet schoolkids in Staten Island on first day of classes

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a press

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference at the American Museum of Natural History on Monday, July 27, 2015. Credit: Bryan R. Smith / Bryan R. Smith

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife kicked off the first day of classes Wednesday by greeting families at a Staten Island grade school.

Celebrating the continued rollout of his signature mayoral campaign promise -- government-funded universal prekindergarten classes -- de Blasio noted that 65,000 children are enrolled in the city-funded program of about 100,000 eligible 4-year-olds. "Pre-K is literally the foundation," de Blasio said during his visit to PS 59 in the north shore neighborhood of St. George.

De Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, met children arriving with their parents for what for many youngsters was their first time attending school.

About 1.1 million public school students started Wednesday at about 1,600 schools at all levels, according to city Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye. Staten Island was the mayor's first stop on a five-borough tour for opening day.

"Are you ready for school?" de Blasio asked Ameya Weichun, 3, who was in the arms of her dad, adjunct professor Jay Weichun, in the PS 59 schoolyard. "Are you happy for school?"

Ameya smiled and nodded, twice.

De Blasio said the success of his pre-K program vindicates the need for mayoral control of schools, which Albany in June extended for only a year -- a contrast with predecessor Michael Bloomberg, whom Albany gave seven years in 2002 at first, then six years in 2009.

"There is no way we could have achieved full-day pre-K for all, without mayoral control," de Blasio said. "There's just no way it would have been physically possible."

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