How Do You Choose a New Chancellor for the NYC School System …? Is a Jesus-Moses-Muhammad-Gandhi-like Chancellor Waiting in the Wings?

The New York Yankees decided to have an open procedure in the search for a new manager. The candidates were publicly announced and met the press immediately after the interview. The media debated the candidates and the decision was widely applauded. The New York Mets held their interviews in-house, no announcements of candidates and announced the new manager with fanfare, again, a popular choice.

 At a press conference, de Blasio said he has already begun a national search to replace Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who formally announced her retirement on Thursday. He emphasized that he is not looking for someone to shake things up but rather wants someone who will follow through on the course that he and Fariña set out. He also committed to hiring an educator, an important criteria for the mayor when he chose Fariña that set him apart from the previous administration.

 The mayor said he plans to select a new chancellor in the next few months ….  He gave little information about the search process, saying only that it will be an internal, quiet decision.

 If the plan is to hire “someone who will follow through on the course that [de Blasio] and Fariña set out,” why a nationwide search, select from among the deputy chancellors, Dorita Gibson, Phil Weinberg, or from among the members of the Board of Regents who were highly effective superintendents, Regents Chin, Cashin, Rosa or Young? In the 90’s three chancellor’s, Cortines, Green and Crew, from across the nation stumbled.

Unspecified insiders paint a different picture of the mayor/chancellor relationship, the NY Daily News reports,

… behind the door … insiders have said de Blasio has been growing impatient with Farina’s inability to communicate his education agenda to the public.

“De Blasio thinks the schools are doing great,” said one Education Department official who requested anonymous. “He can’t understand why he gets negative coverage and pushback over things like school safety.”

Farina, in a self-assessment, looking over her four years mused,

“The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system,” Fariña said.

 The speculation was that Carmen would stay a year or two, and de Blasio would select the “big name,” the new leader; Carmen surprised the sages.

Why wasn’t “the message” getting out? If you look at the pieces of data emerging from schools: higher graduation rates, jumps in test scores, Universal Pre-K, 3 for All;  De Blasio can’t understand the negative coverage from the Post, the Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, the Manhattan Institute and a host of blog sites.

 Marshall McLuhan is famous for the phrase, “the medium is the message,” and the LcLuhan website explains,

… the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing.

The same can be said for de Blasio himself, in spite of historically low homicide rates, improvements in quality of life, a thriving economy, the negative side, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, transit woes dominate the news.

De Blasio, in person, has an electric personality, charming, engaged, a wonderful public speaker. I was at an annual Christmas season community event a few weeks ago. The hundreds in the diverse crowd were local folks with their kids to see the Christmas lights turned on: Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, Trish James, the Public Advocate and the Mayor spoke, de Blasio charmed the crowd. In September I attended a community Town Hall, de Blasio interacting with a community, hosted by the City Counsel member. For a few hours de Blasio answered questions, knowledgeable, accessible, and seemingly caring about each and every story or complaint.

Yet the press hammers away, at press availability de Blasio is uncomfortable, snarky, why are they asking me about the “bad stuff” and not the “good stuff?”

Charming in person and not able to enunciate a message across the city.

Cuomo, on the other hand, only meets with the public and the press at carefully controlled events with questions limited to the single topic. I can’t remember an open press conference.  Cuomo reads speeches, issues press releases, stands on a stage surrounded by acolytes to announce this or that; the other end of the spectrum from de Blasio.

Aloof in person, effectively sends a message: I am in charge, I am the your leader.

Trump meets the nation through tweets, and campaign rallies, he is at the center, whether you like him or not he is the center of attention, he is the imperial and imperious president.,

We have moved from the era of the presser, from print media to the era of social media, an era of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, websites; the New York Times has more online subscribers than hard print purchasers.

The number one “quality” of a new Chancellor should be the ability to communicate, to carry the message.

The substance might be less important than the message.

The current Farina education menu is a la carte. There are dozens, maybe scores, of “new initiatives,” the administration has tossed dollars and “programs” at criticism and perceived “problems.”  On the left hand column the “problem,” in the middle column the programmatic response, on the right side the cost, check off and move on to the next issue.  The old Board of Education was once described as a mass of silly putty, you could stick your finger in and change the shape with ease; however, slowly but surely the lump regained its amorphous shape.

I occasionally call a teacher in a Renewal School to catch up on what’s happening in her school: lots of meetings, lots people floating through, lots of data collection, and lots of confusion.

Me: “Do they ask for feedback, do they ask you for suggestions, do they follow through on teacher ideas?”

Teacher: “Not really, we’re polite, we listen, we try and implement the instructional changes, the new programs seem to be in conflict with other programs, it’s frustrating and depressing.”

I speak with a principal: “A cluster of schools, mine included, was getting significant dollars from a grant, the superintendent asked for ideas, we carefully researched, eventually the program was announced, none of our ideas made the cut, the programs were disconnected, it was chaotic, every program wanted a piece of our kids.”

On the state level the Rosa/Elia team has learned the lesson.

Former Commissioner John King “declared” change after change, call them reform after reform, with most of the Regents rubber stamping, and, defending each and every “reform.” Whether or not the reforms had merit faded as opposition to King increased. King became the message, not the value or lack thereof of the reforms.

Chancellor Rosa and Commissioner Elia have “included” the immediate world. Task forces, work groups, gatherings all over the state, at times a seemingly tedious and overly lengthy process resulting in this initiative or that initiative.  The message: we want to involve you, all of you, we will listen, and you’re “in the tent.”

The move from the Common Core to the Next Generation Standards garnered thousands of online comments, endless meetings across the state; I attended a meeting in Brooklyn with over 100 teachers interacting with city and state staffers. I attended a meeting at the union with a few Regents members and a number of math teachers who served on one of the task forces.

The Next Generation Standards were adopted with minimal opposition. Are they “better” than the Common Core standards? I have no idea, the message was clear: everyone will have their opportunity to participate in the change process.

In New York City the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the central board meetings are poorly attended, the Community Education Councils (CEC), the local school boards, have numerous unfilled slots and, once again, the people on the stage outnumber the people in the audience.

The message is clear, you don’t really count, we’re doing what we think is the right path.

Carmen was the right person at the right time, replacing an administration that thrived on chaos and confrontation. Some of the Bloomberg/Klein initiatives had disastrous consequences (Open Market transfers allowing teachers to hop from school to school setting up a steady drain of teachers away from the lowest achieving schools) to others that made perfect sense (a longer school day, time for professional development and sharply higher wages) and to some that are debatable (school closing and new school creation). Eventually the public came to the conclusion, polling data confirms,  we trust teachers more than the mayor to create education policy.

The Farina policies lack coherence; for example, there is no New York City curriculum. Carmen likes programs devised by Lucy Calkins and Lucy West, and some superintendents force principals to use the programs, others abhor the programs. The answer to why there is no curriculum has been “we’re working on it.”  Increasingly curriculum is seen to be at the core of improved outcomes.

David Steiner, former New York State Chancellor, writes, ,

An education system without an effective instructional core is like a car without a working engine: It can’t fulfill its function. No matter how much energy and money we spend working on systemic issues – school choice, funding, assessments, accountability, and the like – not one of these policies educates children. That is done only through curriculum and teachers: the material we teach and how effectively we teach it.

Why has it taken four years to address the school diversity issue? The controversy around school segregation began with a research paper from The Civil Right Project at UCLA,

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

The Farina administration tarried, the pressure to create a school integration plan in New York came from two members of the City Council and a number of advocacy organizations, Carmen finally created a plan that has been criticized by the advocates and electeds.

To make matters more complex, a recent research paper from the Metro Center at NYU, “Separate But Unequal: Comparing Achievement in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools,” finds only modest differences and makes a range of other policy recommendations.

Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.

In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools (68.8 percent versus 66.5 percent)

The report includes recommendations for stimulating diversity, expanding opportunity, and interrupting segregation in New York City schools, including challenging “opportunity monopolies,” such as specialized high schools, that only provide privileges to certain groups of students. The researchers also recommend recruiting and retaining teachers of color and hiring from the beginning culturally competent educators.

Did you know the Department has an Office of Equity and Access?  Once again the Department has spun out initiative after initiative, press release after press release, with considerable backslapping. Will the meetings of the newly appointed School Diversity Group be live streamed? Will there be a website for public comments?

Do principals, teachers, advocates and New Yorkers in general, have an opportunity to participate in the policy creation process?  Sadly, no, the gulf between those who work in schools and those who lead the school system is wide. The gulf between advocates and school district leadership continues to be disturbing; it is often confrontational rather than cooperative and collegial.

The chancellor proudly announces she has visited 400 schools; however, her visits are preceded by schools scrambling to put on the right face, new bulletin boards, tighter discipline, etc. The team spends an hour or so and moves on and the school breathes a sigh of relief.

The union contract contains a consultation requirement,

The community or high school superintendent shall meet and consult once a month during the school year with representatives of the Union on matters of educational policy and development and on other matters of mutual concern.

 In my union representative days my district had a different spin, the superintendent met monthly with all the school union reps in addition to the principals and parent leaders, Prior to the Albany legislative session the superintendent hosted a meeting of all the electeds, the District Leadership Team and all the parents associations to discuss district budgetary needs.

The teacher union reps were part of the leadership process – the message from the district to the teacher leaders – we respect and welcome your views, your participation. We created active and participatory school and district leadership teams, the school teams created bylaws with specific conflict resolution guidelines. The district leadership team, the superintendent, principals and teachers, responded to intra-school conflicts.

The district created a diversity plan; over a thousand Afro-American students from overcrowded schools were bused to underutilized all-white schools at the other end of the district. It only occurred because the entire community was included in every step of the process.

In a prior post I suggested that the new chancellor, a Jesus-Moses-Mohammad-Gandhi-like person, might be difficult to identify;  I’m not a fan of the candidates on the Eva Moskowitz list, New York City has a unique culture; I am a fan of including key stakeholders (unions, etc.) on a search team, and I hope the process does not drag on for months.

The Department has always been a paramilitary organization, the general, aka, chancellor, makes a decision, superintendents and principals salute and the orders trickle down to classroom teachers, the soldiers, who nod politely, close their doors and do what they think is best.  Occasionally a superintendent or a principal, or, an island of schools creates truly collaborative worlds; they are the exception and struggle to survive.

We need a chancellor, a leader, who can communicate, who is respected; would principals, teachers, parents and advocates agree with the reflections of the current chancellor? “The thing I’m proudest of is the fact that we have brought back dignity to teaching, joy to learning, and trust to the system.”

When you think of the Department do the words “dignity,” “joy” and “trust” resonate?

 I hope the mayor can find this incredible personage who can change the Department of Education from a reactive organization to a creative organization, from an organization attempting to pacify critics to an organization that truly finds a path to include diverse views, to an organization whose message is “you are part of the process,” whose outcomes lead to better outcomes for students and families.

Rule # 1 of personal and organization change: participation reduces resistance.

One response to “How Do You Choose a New Chancellor for the NYC School System …? Is a Jesus-Moses-Muhammad-Gandhi-like Chancellor Waiting in the Wings?

  1. Carole Landau Silverstein

    Really enjoyed the history and summary over the years. Collaboration and leadership are important t.

    Like

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