Over the next few weeks or months the mayor will select a chancellor; in reality a deputy mayor for education. New York, Chicago and Boston are mayoral control cities; in Los Angeles an elected school board selects a superintendent. In the fourteen thousand or so school districts across the nation elected lay school boards hire a school superintendent; the elected school board constructs a budget that must be approved by the voters, commonly in a May election. The mayor and council run the town or city, the school board sets the policy and their employee, the superintendent, runs the schools within policies established by the school board.
In mayoral control cities educational policies and the mayoral policies in inextricably intertwined.
The current Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Education was the Chief of Staff for the Mayor in his previous position as Public Advocate.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced the appointment of Ursulina Ramirez as Chief Operating Officer. Ramirez has served as Chancellor Fariña’s Chief of Staff since January 2014, and will continue in that role.
As Chief Operating Officer, Ramirez will oversee the development and implementation of key DOE portfolios including the Mayor’s Equity and Excellence agenda, internal and external communications, and intergovernmental affairs.
In her current position as Chancellor Fariña’s Chief of Staff, Ramirez has managed day-to-day operations within the Chancellor’s office and served as a key policy advisor to the Chancellor.
Prior to her time at the DOE, Ramirez served Deputy Executive Director of the Mayor’s Transition team, and previously as Deputy Public Advocate and Senior Policy Advisor under then-Public Advocate Bill De Blasio,
Potential candidates will operate within an administration; instead of being responsible to an elected school board they are responsible directly to the mayor.
Will educational policy drive a run for higher office? Can political and educational goals be integrated? Good for children and good for political leaders?
John Merrow, the former PBS Education Reporter, in his book “Transforming Public Education in Just Nine Steps,” lays out his path to a transformed school system. If it was the spring of 1787 and I was sitting at the Constitutional Convention or if I was sitting along side Madison and Hamilton was they were writing the Federalist Papers I would have urged the founding fathers to embed the Merrow “steps” into the founding documents.
Because the country has become addicted to “superficial” reform it must, like all addicts it must own the problem and face up to the costs of addiction.
- Ask the Right Questions
Our schools and our dominant pedagogy are inappropriate for the twenty-first century and have to be replaced.
Every child has interests, and those can be tapped and nurtured in schools that are designed to provide opportunities for children to succeed as they pursue paths of their own choosing. Giving children agency over their own education—with appropriate guidance and supervision—will produce a generation that is better equipped to cope with today’s changing world.
“Only connect,” urges one of E.M. Forster’s central characters in his novel Howard’s End. Forster wasn’t writing about adolescents and children, but he could have been. Because most children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, making connections with them is essential. Children need nurturing and support, and when they don’t feel connected to their school and the adults therein, they will look elsewhere.
Read the remainder of the “steps,” you will probably agree with Merrow; however, we live world of swirling agendas. We live in a world in which agendas are set from Washington, Albany and City Hall as well as by the numerous advocacy organizations, set by the media, set by think tanks, and, of course, implemented by teachers and school leaders, who oftentimes have doubts about the efficacy of the agendas.
We live in a world in which success; or lack thereof is measured: in sports, in the stock market, in the business arena and in schools. Graduation rates and test scores not only grab headlines they determine the careers of school and school district leaders.
The PBS program “Prairie Home Companion” takes place in the mythical city of Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average; it’s right next to the of the nation in which the bottom 5% of schools, as measured by test scores, are in danger of closing. Of course there will always be a bottom five percent, and the schools will always be located in the poorest section of the city or state. The instruction in the five percent schools or the schools in danger of becoming a five percent school will always be driven by test prep; that is, until the testing mania subsides. Twenty percent of parents in New York State have opted out of state tests without any negative repercussions, if the opt out percent increases perhaps the feds will take a second look. Then again, Congress can’t seem to agree on the day of the week much less legislation..
The new chancellor will stand at the news conference, mayor at his/her side voicing all the platitudes, making frequent laudatory references to parents and children and teachers and school leaders.
The files awaiting the new occupant of the chancellor’s chair:
Low performing schools: Do you continue the policy of “renewal” and “rising” schools? Closing a few, combining a few others, partnering schools, directing highly targeted dollars, creating more community schools? Or, do you have another approach? Will a change in direction signal a failure of current policy and reflect poorly on the mayor?
School Integration: In June. 2017, the department released their School Diversity Plan a combination of Controlled Choice and Blind Choice plans in a few schools and school districts that expressed an interest. Matt Gonzales, the director of Appleseed sees the department efforts as incremental, far too slow, City Council members Brad Lander and Richie Torres have been consistent critics of department plans, and, the silence among Afro-American organizations is deafening (“Why do I have to go to a white school to get s good education?”).
Should the new chancellor continue the incremental approach? Or, move more expeditiously, or place integration on put on a “back burner” not wanting to possibly antagonize opponents?
School district management: Joel Klein spent his first year reorganizing the management structure, from the thirty-two school districts to ten mega-districts, and continued his reorganizations throughout his tenure. Farina moved back to a superintendent structure, albeit with a much smaller staff – does the management model matter?
Should the new chancellor be concerned with staff diversity? How about class size? Let’ not forget about classroom discipline/school safety, are the current moves to alternative methods of school discipline, i. e., restorative justice, effective alternatives to suspensions?
And, of course, the Bloomberg/Klein legacy: the 800 teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) Pool; teachers with temporary assignments moving from school to school. Should the new chancellor bite the bullet and permanently assign ATRs to schools?
While months away, the teacher contract expires in November and the department and the union are preparing to begin negotiations: do the contract negotiations offer an opportunity to make changes, win over teachers or alienate teachers, a slippery slope.
As a union representative I worked with a number of school district leaders: some hierarchical, some thought a scepter and orb came with the job, and, a few were highly accessible, in classrooms, interacted with teachers, actually worked with the staff to collaboratively develop policy. I don’t believe there is a secret sauce, a math or reading program that is magical, I do believe when teachers feel involved, respected, when teachers respect school and school district leaders the end result are better lessons and the respect translates to the students.
Richard Green was the chancellor for only fourteen months; he died suddenly of an asthmatic attack. I was in Albany for Teacher Lobby Day, and I was showing a first year Afro-American teacher the importance of political involvement. I saw Chancellor Green in the hallway and interrupted, I introduced the new teacher. Green gave him an effusive greeting, put his arm around the young man and huddled with him for a few moments. I met the teacher a few years later; he immediately referenced his brief meeting with Green, “It changed my life.”
The Chancellor took a few moments out of an incredibly busy life to engage a single teacher, a teacher he never knew.
We need a chancellor who cares, and, who expresses their caring in his/her actions each and every day.