Bottom Up Decision-Making: The Answers are in the Classrooms

A few days ago a well-funded advocacy organization, Educators4Excellence hosted Chancellor Banks, Deputy Chancellor Quintana and others and discussed the shortcomings off the school system, Madina Toure, from Politico tweeted the discussion.

Madina Touré

Banks says he’s in direct alignment with Educators for Excellence in wanting to narrow down options/not have an inconsistent approach on curriculum that’s school by school.

Banks says we “can’t just have a free for all” on curriculum, narrowing some of those choices. Says can be true that in certain respects, schools know what they need but on curricular side, the entire system needs more clarity and direction. Says they’ll make adjustments to that.

Quintana calls grounding literacy in what we know about how students’ brains work and how they actually learn to read. Making sure every school has curriculum grounded in science and reading.

Asked about integrating social-emotional learning into curriculum and professional development, Banks talks about the mayor’s personal connection to health and wellness.

He also says DOE wants to roll out two to three minutes of breathing techniques. Says they plan to start some of that mid-year and that it’s one of the things that are coming. Many more things coming out and that’s just one, he says.

Banks is asked whether he’d support creating a working group to work on narrowing curriculum options. Quintana says they just launched the literacy advisory council and another advisory council for rethinking special education, both of which are connected to the curriculum issue.

Quintana says they’re looking at starting with K-5, convening superintendents and then having focus groups for teachers and principals. Focus groups would work on that, survey individuals.

Says they’re also going around and visiting schools to see what curricula are in place and how it’s working/going. Gathering information from people on site.

“We wanna make sure that this process of rolling out new curricula for K through 5, that folks are part of that process and we’ll use that to learn” what can be done for grades 6-8 and 9-12 as those will be different processes, she says.

At the same time the UFT, the teacher union, was convening their monthly delegates meeting, a thousand delegates, teachers elected by teachers in their school. Union President Mulgrew gives a report, contract negotiations are progressing, albeit slowly, the Albany budget, due April 1 looks excellent, the City budget, due mid June will require a lot of lobbying by the union. The “question period,” is always fascinating. No discussion of curriculum or literacy or “breathing techniques,” The first question was the shortage of day-to-day substitute teachers, lots of applause, and if a school locates a qualified teacher it take forever for the Department to process their application. Mulgrew: At the top of the Chancellor consultation agenda, next question the lack of required services for special education students, again, applause, a system-wide issue. A District 75 teacher: schools for moderately and severely handicapped children are grossly understaffed, again, applause.

The disconnect between the chancellor at E4E and a thousand school leaders was striking.

Each of the 1600 public schools has a culture, in most schools teaching, working with each other and the school administration, in fact, every year teachers, parents and middle/high school students fill out school quality surveys (usually March/April), we know a lot about school climate and collaboration and, about 200 schools participate in a union-board program, PROSE, (See application process here) schools are given latitude to “massage” board regulations or contract rules

* To demonstrate creativity and innovation in the pursuit of educational excellence.

• To foster continuous innovation in the way that [schools] share information, share decision-making, and share accountability for student achievement.

• To treat instructional staff as professionals by empowering them and holding them responsible for providing the highest quality of teaching.

as well as a cohort of 150 schools in their own district, the Affinity District. See a description of the Affinity District by Norm Fruchter,

The pyramid structure of large, urban school districts characterized by ukases from the aeries of the monolith has stumbled for decades. For the most part administrations should act as gardeners nurturing, encouraging, supporting schools.

While at one meeting school district leaders talk of “changes” to a handful of advocates, across the street a thousand teacher leaders, classroom teachers, ask the school district leader to fulfill basic responsibilities. Teachers, principals and many superintendents make decisions impacting students every day, the role of the school district leadership should be to support the decisions made at the school and school district level.

Next blog:  The key to raising achievement across the city.

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