Is the Next Chancellor Standing Offstage? Is the Next Chancellor David Banks?

The twelve-candidate, ranked choice voting Democratic mayoral primary seems a long time ago and the presumptive next mayor, Eric Adams has three months to go until he raises his right hand and is sworn in as mayor.

Adams is overwhelmed with advice, overwhelmed with office seekers and the New York Times reports his closest confidant is former mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York is a strong mayor system of municipal government, the mayor runs the city. S/he appoints all the commissioners, controls the budget and appoints a majority of the school board, effectively appointing the school district leader, called the chancellor. The 51-member City Council approves the budget, holds oversight hearings and has no control over spending.

Bloomberg gave his commissioners wide authority, his school leader choice, Joel Klein, was an attorney, a litigator and a disaster. Dennis Walcott succeeded Klein as chancellor and allowed the senior staff to basically run the school system.

Mayor de Blasio brought back a retired superintendent, Carman Farina, who reverted the system to the pre-Bloomberg management structure. De Blasio tried, unsuccessfully, to intertwine political and education issues: admissions to the Specialized High Schools, testing for the Gifted and Talented classes, furthering school integration plans, retaining a heavy reliance on testing and top-down lockstep centralized leadership.

The school system is in disarray.

The self-appointed cognoscenti, (and the New York Times), predicts David Banks, the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation will be the next chancellor.

New York has a unique school management structure, most schools are part of the traditional geographic school districts superintendents reporting to executive superintendents reporting to the chancellor; however clusters of schools work with school support organizations, they look like and are not Charter Management Organizations.  Six of the support organizations are clustered in the Affinity District, 147 (out of 1800) schools with wide latitude as to educational modalities and some funding flexibilities. Other support organizations work within the traditional structure. I know, too much – Norm Fruchter at the NYU Metro Center takes a deep dive (Read here and here)

David Banks is the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation  (checkout website here), a support organization that works with five 6-12 all boys schools in New York City and one in Newark. Let me emphasize, these are public schools, not charter schools. (David’s bio here Click to access DB-Bio-1-19-18-updated.pdf)

David did not follow the traditional route, some will criticize that he didn’t “pay his dues,” others will remind us of his extremely challenging mission, young men of color fall at the bottom of any list: highest dropout rates, lowest college enrollment etc. and David is committed to these kids.

The chancellor is at the top of the pyramid and typically the “new guy (gal)” rolls out some new testing program or other new initiative. How do we define doing the same thing over and over again knowing it isn’t working? I’m told we will be screening kids for social and emotional problems using a tool called DESSA. What will we do with the results? Do we have sufficient numbers of counselors, social workers and psychologists to address the trauma faced by far too many kids?

For endless decades chancellors have been searching for the magic bullet, the big fix, the elusive “answer,” sadly we know the search is fruitless.

Linda Darling-Hammond, at the Learning Policy Institute, asks What Will It Take to Promote Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving at Scale, (Read here) and points to a cluster of schools one of which is in New York City, the Internationals Network.

The Internationals Network is a support organization working with seventeen secondary schools that only accept new immigrants, an extremely challenging cohort of students, with outstanding results. Over the summer the superintendent, principals, teachers and students met and produced a report, (See report here), thoughtful and exactly what schools should be doing – the “ask,” from the entire team including the superintendent – give us “flexibility with accountability,” the answers are in the schools, thoughtful teachers and school leaders can craft pedagogical models that work for the children in their schools.

The current hubbub over Gifted and Talented classes is an example. Mayor Bloomberg created the model, a citywide test given to four-year olds to attract supporters, a cynical and effective political decision. Mayor de Blasio’s Desegregation Task Force recommended ending the classes, de Blasio demurred, he needed the same voters, until this week when a potential run for governor might be assisted by abolishing the classes.

The decision should not be made by chancellors; these decisions should be made by District and School Leadership Teams at the local level. The battle over heterogeneous versus homogeneous classes is decades old, the Renzulli Method (Watch a superb 5-minute presentation here) explains how to deal with giftedness in a heterogeneous class.

Some schools require highly structured programs; others have or could acquire the skills to develop tools to serve their students and families. We should target funding to address the needs of, to use the words of William Julius Wilson, the “truly disadvantaged,” we should seek out more Black, male school leaders, we should ask schools: what training do you want the chancellor to provide.

We need a bottom up school system, a school system driven by the needs of the schools not by the needs of chancellors.

And, don’t be seduced by technology, we don’t need a deputy chancellor for technology, some day “they” may staple a chip into our earlobes, until then kids need relationships with nurturing mentors. We have to learn from each other, we have to learn to share, learn to ask, learn to be reflective.

David, you have seen on a day-to-day basis the challenges we face and I’m sure you have been frustrated by seemingly distant decisions that impede not assist.

The mantle of chancellor does not come with a scepter and orb, how many so-called education reforms are rightfully rusting away.

Let’s take what is working and scale it up.

We need a leader, a coach, who listens to the troops, who engages us, who challenges us, btw, as do the Mets.

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