And the Next New York City Schools Chancellor Will/ Or, Will Not Be (According to the NY Times, and friends) …..

It’s been thirty days and no leadership decision has been made , no, not the schools chancellor, the NY Giants coach! For many New Yorkers a far more important decision than who occupies the seat in the Tweed Courthouse  (the ornate 19th century building that houses the Department of Education). There is no time frame for the decision, the mayor announced that Carmen Farina, the current chancellor, will be retiring and a replacement will be named in the coming months.

The speculation began as whispers and has now become a contest. Eva Moskowitz came out with her list of fourteen possibilities. A friend half-joked, “If I really wanted the job that’s a list I would not want to be on.”

Charles Sahm, at the Manhattan Institute mused over possible contenders, “Six intriguing candidates for New York City chancellor”.

Chalkbeat, the education website joined in with its list of possibles, “What you should know about seven people who could be the next New York City chancellor.”.

Eliza Shapiro at Politico took a different tack, “Here’s Who Won’t Be the Next NYC Chancellor.”

A New York Times editorial endorsed a list of candidates praising the Bloomberg years and demeaning the de Blasio/Farina years, “Some Bright Hopes for NYC Schools.”

Let’s conduct an exercise, a list of qualities or requirements necessary in the next chancellor: experience in leading a large urban school system and/or a record of success in prior educational leadership posts, demonstrated experience in working with parent and advocacy groups, especially the teacher union, experience in working in New York City would be helpful, plus, demonstrated experience in working in a highly politicized environment, a public persona with a demonstrated ability to communicate with media outlets (“get out the message”), and, the key acknowledgment: you are not a superintendent or a chancellor, in reality, in a mayoral control city you are the deputy mayor for education. Every policy decision you make will be vetted by the mayor and you will be expected to successfully implement mayoral initiatives.

Next step: Do any of the “candidates” referenced above fit the bill?

How about someone who (a) created and implemented the only large urban city program for low performing schools that was successful, (b) successfully led two large urban school systems, and (c) in her last job led the nation in academic growth in the third largest school system in the nation “Chicago leading nation in growth scores.

Before you get too excited, Barbara Byrd Bennett had a secret, she was a compulsive gambler and illegally took dollars from vendors, she is currently a “guest” of the federal government.

Rumors were that she was the de Blasio # 1 choice four years ago, she declined, she had promised to complete her contractual obligation in Chicago.

Of all the “speculations” the New York Times is the furthest out of the mainstream. The editorial folk at the Times are fixated on the chaotic twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg,

Mayor Bill de Blasio took control of New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, four years ago, denouncing the aggressive, data-driven approach to school improvement that his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had used with considerable success. Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña — who recently announced her retirement — shared his vague agenda.

…  the proven school managers whose accomplishments make them appealing candidates will be hesitant to accept the post in the absence of a clear, compelling mayoral vision and backing for forceful action on behalf of students.

The mayor has described his mission over the next four years as promoting equity and excellence, but those goals remain largely out of reach, even as test scores have inched up and graduation rates have risen. In fact, the city needs to move more urgently on three fronts: ending profound racial segregation; closing failing schools while opening better ones; and finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system.

How fast the editorial writers forget:

  • Four major management system upheavals that kept the school system in permanent turmoil. (from Regions, to ill-defined Knowledge Networks, to Empowerment to Affinity Networks)
  • The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) system, a Bloomberg/Klein “innovation”
  • The Open Market Transfer system, actually “teacher free agency,” teachers can move from school to school, moving from high poverty, lower performing to higher performing schools guaranteeing that low performing schools would be continually staffed by neophyte teachers.
  • The “data-driven” systems included SESEIS, an online special education database that was a disaster and actually deprived students of services rather than tracking services.
  • Creating over a hundred “screened” schools, increasing segregation and pulling higher achieving kids out of poor schools effectively lowering achievement in those schools.

I could go on and on; yes, the Bloomberg/Klein leadership closed 150 schools, many, not all, were beyond repair, and created 500 schools, initially with academic gains, gains that have eroded; however, the battles with teachers and their union extinguished many of the early accomplishments.

Is the de Blasio/Farina agenda “vague,”?  Universal PreK and 3 for All (PreK for 3-year olds beginning in the poorest district) will positively impact lives for generations.

Ending profound segregation,” has a nice ring; only 14% of the children in the school system are white and most children attend hyper-segregated schools that reflect neighborhoods.

 “Closing failing schools and creating better ones,” seems simple, no one has found a magic bullet. Closing an elementry school and opening a successor school in the same building has not been a winning strategy.

“ …finding more effective ways to train good teachers, retain the best teachers and move the worst ones out of the system,” is exactly what the current de Blasio negotiated union contract does, sets aside time each week for professional development; retaining the best teachers in the highest poverty schools under the Bloomberg “free agency” and data mania has driven teachers to higher performing schools or out of the system. The Times doesn’t know, or, fails to comprehend, the current New York State teacher evaluation system includes expedited hearings, allows management to bring charges after two “ineffective” ratings and moves the burden of proof to the teacher.

The Bloomberg years, like former partners, look better in retrospect, the pain and anguish fades.

Picking winners, like picking school/school district leaders can be a “roll of the dice.”

I’ve participated in interviews, sat in audiences while superintendent candidates were interviewed and watched interviews online, all sort of “speed dating.”

For some you kept glancing at your watch, it was agony to listen; others were glib, well-rehearsed answers, a few charming; however, the quality of the interview does not translate into the effectiveness on the job. You vet, you contact the former employer, parents and electeds and I called the teacher union leader.

It’s hard to see someone without ties to the city leading a 1.1 million children system, a system so embroiled in political agendas. Dan Drumm, the new chair of the City Council Finance Committee is a 25-year teacher and a union activist in his teaching days, Mark Tryger, the new chair of the Council Education Committee was a high school teacher four years ago, and an outspoken critic of the Bloomberg data-madness. Betty Rosa, the Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents was a career teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx.

I’m not going to list “favorites,” don’t want to jinx anyone, it is a monumental task, as I wrote earlier this Jesus-Mohammad-Moses-Buddha-like personage is hard to find.

Maybe the feds will let Barbara become chancellor as part of a work release program?

BTW, if you haven’t discovered it yet you must watch “Rita,” about a “kick-ass” Danish teacher, it is fantastic, click on the link: https://www.buzzfeed.com/matwhitehead/one-less-lonely-hjordis?utm_term=.ism55mqKo#.tjnddzqQZ

2 responses to “And the Next New York City Schools Chancellor Will/ Or, Will Not Be (According to the NY Times, and friends) …..

  1. Barbara Byrd Bennett indeed. What is she now 70? She to me is not only a throwback, but should be seen as a throw away.. I saw her henchman type work in the 70s. She was brought into dist 16 to do an independent evaluation of a JHS. After a 45 min visit to the school, an interview with 2 parents, she issued a 60 page report castigating the principal for everything under the sun. Of course she was pre programmed to do so. You talk about your henchmen, there’s none better. Maybe NYC deserves her, and then again, I think not!

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  2. It is time to recognize that who the Chancellor is will not make a huge difference for students in classrooms. Teaching takes place in those rooms and learning develops as a result of the skill and relationship building ability of the teachers in those rooms. Top-down mandates (i.e. workshop model lesson plans, rugs, specific reading programs, etc.) are not a prescription for improved teaching. In my career every time a new chancellor came in they reorganized the curriculum or rewrote the standards to put old ideas into new packages. Teachers wasted time learning the new language instead of thinking about how to better reach and engage the students in front of them. Today, I see teachers writing and students being forced to copy the numerical code for the standards covered in that lesson. Does any student or parent know what those numbers stand for? Does it make the lesson better to spend time writing and copying them?

    Teachers need to know and have the flexibility to use an approach that works for the students they have. Some students need Direct Instruction, others may benefit more from classrooms where knowledge is socially constructed out of student to student discussion. Most students need a combination of the two approaches. Teachers know when students need more time to learn and practice new skills and concepts. Pacing calendars handed out by zealous administrators to ensure coverage of the whole curriculum hurt students. A student who knows 65% of 100% of the material is unlikely to pass a Regents. A student who knows 100% of 80% of the material is likely to pass.

    Empowering teachers and giving them time in their work days for lesson study and discussion with colleagues and support staff when they encounter difficult students is the best way to grow and retain teachers. We need a leadership model that is focused less on who is at the top of the heap and more on how the service delivery persons, the teachers and paras, are performing. Teachers should be empowered to watch colleagues and help them improve. We need more mentoring not more top-down mandates. Teachers who are not improving can be referred to a supervisor for observations that can lead to an ineffective rating and counseling out of the profession. It is time for teaching to move away from the nineteenth century model of supervision and into one more appropriate for the twenty-first century and the diverse school communities we serve in.

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