Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks: Hopefully Not Geppetto and Pinocchio

Mayor-elect Adams is about to jump into the bubbling cauldron of the NYC mayoralty, a cauldron from which no mayor has emerged unscathed nor has moved on to any other elected office. Bloomberg’s run for president was disastrous, Mayor de Blasio, considering a run for governor is polling in the single digits.

Adams will inherit his predecessor’s budget and his predecessor’s policies, from vaccination requirements, (the daily Coronavirus tracker jumped 23% on Tuesday) to the future of Gifted and Talented classes to the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), school integration (School Diversity Task Force Report) and the current reducing class size issue before the City Council.

Adams has announced his first appointment, David Banks, the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, a close friend of the mayor-elect who has been waiting in the wings for months.

Adams and Banks have a long, close personal relationship: will Adams say “David, we’ve known each other for years, I trust you, run the school system,” or will Banks simply carry out the political agenda of his friend?

 Adams was vague during his campaign; candidates want to throw a wide net. Since his election Adams has avoided discussion of specific policies and his 100 member education transition team, that’s right, 100 member does not include union leadership or noted education thought leaders. It does include Dan Weisberg, who had a contentious relationship with unions during his tenure in the Bloomberg administration and even more contentious as leader of The New Teacher Project and Eliza Shapiro, of the NY Times reports Weisberg will the First Deputy Chancellor.

Banks is a big personality and extremely likeable,

“He’s intensely, intensely passionate about this work, he’s deeply knowledgeable, and he’s also pragmatic,” said Mark Dunetz, president of New Visions for Public Schools, an organization that supports a network of district and charter schools. Banks is “the type of leader that I think a system as complex and large as ours needs.”

The NYTimes reports,

Mr. Banks said his first priorities would include expanding early childhood education options for the city’s youngest children, improving career pathways for older students, and combating students’ trauma.

Without sweeping changes, Mr. Banks said, “you’re just going to play around in the margins.”

No one would disagree, and, isn’t Banks describing the current administration?

The current Eagle Academy schools look like charter schools, kids wear uniforms, the schools are public schools and have higher graduation rates than surrounding schools; on the downside three of the Eagle middle schools are cited by the state for extremely low achievement. The jump from running five 6-12 schools for young men of color to a 1.1 million student system is monumental.

For the eight years of de Blasio the teacher and principal unions have had an amicable relationship, negotiated two collective bargaining agreements; yes, battled over COVID protocols, and partners in the fights for school funding.  The Renewal initiative, an excellent idea, target the hundred lowest achieving schools and provide significant additional funding as well as substantial funding for mental health services. Both the programs were poorly run and sharply criticized. (Read Renewal criticism here and Thrive criticism here).

Can Banks build on the de Blasio initiatives and improve the implementation?

Banks will have an awkward entry: Who do you keep? Who do you replace? Building an airplane while in flight is challenging and he has to hit the ground running.

He inherits the unresolved de Blasio issues: will he move forward aggressively or seek a new pathway? And, the City and the UFT are scheduled to begin the next round of contract negotiations.

If he hasn’t done so already I would recommend Banks read Michael Fullan’s, “The right drivers for whole system success,” see a selection from an interview with Fullan

Interviewer: Let’s start with change and some of the challenges of leading school district improvement in an era of change. Why do people resist change and what do you feel distinguishes the successful organizations that have strong capacities for change?

Michael Fullan: I think I first want to put the focus on what we call ‘whole system reform’, which is either the whole district or sometimes even bigger, as in the whole state or providence. It’s not one school at a time; it’s a whole set of schools. The ones that we find are successful have superintendents that have put the focus on the achievement agenda and then, instead of focusing on what I call negative accountability, they focus on capacity building. Capacity building in this instance means developing a teacher’s ability at the school level to work together in a collective capacity to zero in on making the changes, monitoring the results, and making corrections. It’s that kind of really strong focus, and there are other elements, but it definitely is leadership and focus as it builds capacity.

Perhaps time to mull over Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

2 responses to “Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks: Hopefully Not Geppetto and Pinocchio

  1. I was salutatorian of my junior high school class. I recited that Robert Frost poem at the opening of the graduation ceremony. As for Adams and Banks, I think they mean well, but so far no mayor and few chancellors have really listened to teachers when it comes to what would improve schools. The five boroughs of NYC have 6 more students per classroom than all the other counties in New York State, even though we receive children “over-the-counter” all year. Many do not speak English. Some have never attended school in their native countries. Teachers are tasked with individualizing instruction. Ha! What we need is not “innovation.” What we need is an investment in public education that would support more classroom teachers in smaller classes. It is frustrating to know what to do but not to be able to do it for the same old reason. It’s time to take the road less travelled if we want to make a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

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