Tag Archives: School Renewal Plan

Farina 1.0 Moving from Networks to Superintendencies, Do the “New” Superintendents Have the Skills to Lead School Districts?

Some principals are nervous, others panicky, it appears that for the first time principals are going to have a “boss.” The Chancellor has “hinted” to expect a January announcement that will empower superintendents and disempower network leaders.

Under the Bloomberg-Klein regency the school management system swung from “regions,” geographic entities with over 100 schools each; regional superintendents and local instructional superintendents closely monitored and directed schools; the ten regions replaced the 32 school districts and six high school districts. With a number of stops along the way the Department moved from Klein 1,0 through change after change to let’s call it Klein 4.0 – sixty networks (reduced to fifty-two). The networks are non-geographic affinity-based clusters of schools, about 25 per network, a network leader with instructional and operations staffs. Principals choose a network, assess the network, and, can move to another network. Principals use the network as they see fit: work closely with the network or ignore – as long as their data is acceptable. Geographic district-based superintendents are required by state law, the superintendent’s only staff member: a parent advocate. The role of the superintendent is evaluating portfolios of probationary teachers seeking tenure, making tenure decisions based on the principal recommendations, responding to parent concerns and conducting the two-day Quality Review. (See the 2014-15 Quality Review Rubric here). The network prepares schools for the Quality Review (QR) visit, commonly conducting mock visits to prepare the school for the “dog and pony” show.

What should be the role of the layer above the principal, the network leader or superintendent or whomever?

Eric Nadelstern, in a comment on an earlier blog wrote,

Principals, in consultation with teachers, parents and the students themselves, should make the important decisions. The legitimate role of the supt/district is to find the best principals available, support them, develop them, provide incentives to do good work, protect them from outside interference, and ultimately, hold them accountable for the highest levels of student performance.

I generally agree with Eric. Our problem is that for years we have simply abandoned principals. Some have thrived, others stumble and too many may not be up to the job.

In one school the principal proudly told me “our staff is totally committed to restorative justice.” Unfortunately the kids weren’t, chaos was the norm, the Tweed principal mentor shrugged: the principal was the CEO.

Another school was plagued by staff turnover, teachers kept leaving, and the principal bemoaned, “I can’t get them to buy into my vision.” Maybe the principal should visit an optometrist?

Ken, another commenter on this site, references principal after principal who don’t hold post-observation conferences, they observe the teacher the requisite number of times, enter the observation in the ADVANCE (See description of teacher evaluation system here) database, observations are viewed as compliance only.

The Department describes the teacher observation system

Advance, New York City’s new system of teacher evaluation and development, was designed to provide the City’s teachers with accurate feedback on their performance, and the support necessary to improve their practice with the goal of improved student outcomes to ensure all students graduate college and career ready.

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers continuously strengthen their instruction is a central feature of both the NYCDOE’s Citywide Instructional Expectations and Advance.

How often do “frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers” actually occur? And, if it doesn’t, who can make it happen?

How often do school leaders engage the teacher in discussion, a two-way discussion, about a lesson?

The Department training program is teams of principals observing a lesson and then discussing the “grade” in a facilitated discussion. A reviewer describes the requisite skills of the school leader in Charlotte Danielson’s”
Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations,”

… help[ing] school leaders understand the value of reflective, informal professional conversations in promoting a positive environment of inquiry, support, and teacher development … explains the critical function of informal professional conversations in ongoing teacher learning, Explores the interaction of power and leadership in schools [and] outlines the conversation skills that school leaders need to initiate and engage in successful conversations

The written observation report documents the actual observation, the interaction between the school leader and the teacher, the “Talk about Teaching” engages the school leader and teacher in a professional conversation, far more important than the actual report.

Eric writes the role of the school district leader is “… find the best principals available, support them, and develop them.” Supporting and developing principals is a complex skill.

We must not return to school district leaders who attempt to impose particular policies. Edward Demming, the iconic leadership guru tells us, “You cannot inspect quality into the product if it is not already there.”

If you ask a teacher to identify their network or network leader you get a shrug, teachers can identify their district. A principal, who was enthusiastic about the move to districts, told me, “My kids are going to a middle school five blocks away, I’ve never had a discussion with the middle school principal, its nuts.”

Just as effective schools have strong school cultures district cultures are equally important.

The role of the “new” superintendents, hopefully, will blend the supportive network leader with providing timely feedback to principals and building both school and district cultures that support children, families and communities.

The challenges:

* The 94 “Renewal Schools,” the schools that have been on a path to drastic redesign or closing: Superintendents will be measured by success in improving schools that have been struggling for years.

* The PROSE (innovative) and Portfolio Schools: These 100 or so schools have had wide discretion, most clustered in “friendly” networks, how will they “fit” in a geographic network with supervisory oversight?

* The “Newer” principal problem: Hundreds of principals have been basically “self-employed,” as long their data was acceptable the principals ran the school without interference; superintendents could not enter schools without prior notice or in collaboration with the network. “New” superintendents, who are the rating officer, can enter schools and ask the tough questions and believe it may actually direct principals.

* Rebuilding school cultures: Teachers (and principals) feel battered. From the White House to the Secretary of Education, from the governor to the Board of Regents, there has been an endless pillorying of teachers. The recent exchange of letters between the governor (see here) and the Chancellor (see here) is just another example of blame-placing. Superintendents have to be role models, supporting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a teacher of principals, available to teachers and communities.

In the today’s current toxic climate the new superintendents must be healers, willing to spend time in schools, not primarily observing classes (although that will occur), but meeting and listening to teachers. To use Theodor Reik’s term, “listening with the third ear,” (the practice of listening for the deeper layers of meaning in order to glean what has not been said outright. It means perceiving the emotional underpinnings conveyed when someone is speaking to you).

Schools improve not because superintendents and principals force their will on teachers; schools improve because the school community, principals, teachers and the entire school community believe they can improve the school.

Will the “new” superintendents have the skills to reinvigorate and revive schools?

The Next 94: Why Can’t We Repair/Assist/Support Schools Before We Have to Reconstruct Them?

For the last two decades or so the State Education Department (SED) has been “identifying” struggling schools. The acronym has changed, the charade has been the same; the SED sends a team into a low achieving school, the team writes a report, the school closes or continues on life support.

Back in the SURR (Schools Under Registration Review) days a team that included representatives from the teacher and supervisor unions spent four days perusing reams of data, observing most classes and interviewing everyone we could find. The SURR Guide directed the team to explore 21 different areas, and, in a “Findings and Recommendations” format laid out a path to success.

Unfortunately in too many instances our “investigation” was an autopsy, the only way the school could survive was resurrection,and, that hasn’t happened too many times!

At the end of each year the SED compiled a summary of the reports, the similarity from report to report was depressing; lack of support at the district and school level, polite but critical comments about teacher quality, inadequate materials, inconsistent or an absence of professional development, etc.

Today the state identifies Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA), Priority and Focus schools, 700 schools across the state, visiting the schools using the Diagnostic Tool to assess the school.

See Power Point of Diagnostic Tool: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/January2014/P12DTSDE.pdf

Regent Cashin asked a SED staff member a question: “I hear it takes a school many months to receive the report of the state visit, how long does it take?”

SED staffer: “It has been a problem, we’re aiming at a 60-day turnaround time” (Eduspeak for it takes a lot longer than 60 days)

The SED requires school districts to take direct action to assist schools at the bottom of the list.

Chancellor Farina named 94 low performing schools and outlined, in broad strokes, a School Renewal Plan, a three-year reprieve for the schools, with a caveat,

Officials had already warned the 94 schools in the turnaround program that if they do not achieve certain improvement goals after three years of intensive support, they could be combined with other schools, split into smaller academies, or closed. But Fariña made clear … that she was eyeing schools with very few students as potential targets of consolidation.

Interestingly the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School issued a report, A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools, not surprisingly, there is an overlap among the 94 Renewal Schools and the neighborhoods identified in the Report,.

The report, identifies 130 [elementary] schools in which more than one-third of the children were chronically absent for five years in a row. Perhaps not surprisingly, these schools have very low levels of academic achievement … Chronic absenteeism correlates with deep poverty—high rates of homelessness, child abuse reports, and male unemployment and low levels parental education. In fact, the report states, chronic absenteeism is a much better index of poverty than the traditional measure of the number of children eligible for free lunch. Moreover, it’s very hard to schools to escape the pull of poverty: only a handful of school with above-average rates of chronic absenteeism had above-average pass rates on their standardized tests for math and reading—and most scored far below, the report states.

The report identifies 18 “risk factors” that are associated with chronic absenteeism, both in the school building and in the surrounding neighborhood. Schools with a very high “risk load” are likely to suffer from poor attendance.

Why did the Department wait so long to identify struggling schools and offer targeted assistance?

Schools do not change from high achieving to low achieving overnight, tell me the neighborhood and I’ll make a pretty accurate guess about the achievement level of the school. The Chancellor’s District scooped up the lowest achieving schools and showed progress, the problem was when the schools were returned to their original districts the gains eroded. The Chancellor’s District was a “one-size fits all” plan that did not create sustainability.

Let me ask a simple question: Why don’t we intervene/assist at the first signs of difficulty?

The current superintendent/network dichotomy does not allow for targeted help. One of the strengths of the Chancellor’s District and Region 5 (Brownsville, East New York, South Jamaica and Rockaway) was the use of UFT Teacher Centers. Consistent, on-site, high quality, teacher-friendly professional development located in your school, and, the ability of teacher centers to collaborate across schools is an enormous asset.

Under the regional structure each region had all non-instructional services (guidance, social workers, attendance, health, community-based organizations) clustered within an organization called Student Placement, Youth, Family Support Service (SPYFSS). The structure was a community school structure at the regional level. When Klein dumped the regions he abolished SPYFSS – one of his worst decisions.

Suggestions for Chancellor Farina and her team:

* cluster schools in the highest poverty neighborhoods, schools with the highest “poverty risk load,” into expanded geographic areas.

* Create a SPYFSS-type organization for each of the expanded geographic areas.

* Outside of the school budget assign the “high poverty risk load” schools a guidance counselor(s) and a social worker(s)

* Establish a District Leadership Team which includes union representatives and community organizations.

* An advisory council made up of experts, from colleges or think tanks to review the district, collect data, analyze progress, and conduct actionable research.

And, of course, assign a leader with skills in the teaching/learning, socio-emotional and management domains.

To wait until schools are on life support helps no one, in fact, it is a waste of resources; it is a never ending cycle. Creating structures with the ability to both reflect and have access to expert advice, to create structures in which a wide range of social services are at hand, to be part of an action research project that assesses programs and outcomes in real time.

With the right structures School Renewal Plans would be unnecessary.

de Blasio’s School Renewal Plan: Warmed Over Ineffective Turnaround Plans or Well Thought Out Plans Phased-In With Faculty Involvement?

Almost a year to the day after his election Mayor de Blasio, in a major address, rolled out his long awaited education plan. As the spring morphed into summer and the summer into the fall the whispers got louder – What’s happening? What’s the plan for “struggling” schools? If he’s not going to close schools, how is he going to help schools? In a lengthy address the mayor mused about his experiences as a student and a parent and described his plans.

The plan below:

Aggressive Supports and Reforms for 94 Low-Performing Schools

Each school-specific School Renewal Plan will outline the school’s approach to transforming into a Community School and offering extended time, as well as feature the following supports and reforms:
• Additional resources, such as academic intervention specialists, guidance counselors, social workers, small group instruction and individualized plans to meet the academic and emotional needs of every student
• Extensive professional learning and development for school staff, including intensive coaching for principals
• Enhanced oversight from superintendents who all recently completed a rigorous interview process
• Frequent visits from DOE trained staff to provide feedback and closely monitor progress

Additional targeted supports tailored to each school, based on its individual needs, may include:
• Modified curriculum to maximize school improvement
• New master and model teachers who can share their craft with other educators at the school
• Operational support, enabling principals to focus on supporting their teachers to ensure rigorous classroom instruction
• Additional resources for school safety and social service programs designed to address the specific identified needs of the student population

The goals for the coming years are:
• 2014–2015
o Each school must develop and put in place a School Renewal Plan for transformation by Spring 2015
• 2015–2016
o Each school must meet concrete milestones defined in its School Renewal Plan and improve on targeted elements of the capacity framework, as identified in the needs assessment
o Each school must demonstrate measurable improvement in attendance and teacher retention
• 2016–2017
o Each school must demonstrate significant improvement in academic achievement
o Each school must demonstrate continued improvement on targeted elements of the capacity framework

For some the plan looks like warmed-over State Incentive Grants (SIG) that the feds have been distributing for years. The grants fit into parameters set by the state and the details of the grant are created by the school district; principals have peripheral input and staff no input. Programs imposed from central rarely change classroom practice.

Principles of Organizational Change:
• Participation reduces resistance
• Change is perceived as punishment

Some of the schools on the list have been flirting with school closures for decades, superintendents, regional superintendents, network leaders, etc., have been “supporting” schools year after year, how will the de Blasio Renewal Plan differ from years of “new initiatives?”

If instructional practice from 9 – 3, during the regular school day has not been effective what makes you think instruction from 3 – 4 will be effective?

Andy Smarick in Education Next,
in a critical essay about school turnaround writes,

… school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations. Quite simply, turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems…

Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways.

The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”

Is the School Renewal Plan spending $150 million and pushing the problem three years down the road? On the other hand school closings sacrificed students in the phase-out schools, two or three years of staff moving on and deteriorating services. Over 1,000 teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool rotating from school to school at a cost of tens of millions. The Renewal Plan will involve staffs in the creation of school specific plans and the master teachers and coaches and mentors will work with school staffs. Schools will have “ownership” of the process, yes; schools plans must operate within the parameters of the Renewal Plan (extended school days, etc.). Schools will have three years to recreate their own schools in a transparent process. If schools fail to show adequate progress, in a transparent process, schools will be closed or staff changed. it is difficult to object to school closing at the end of a process in which school staffs participated in the process.

School closings vigorously resisted by schools, communities and elected or schools that improve, or not, with the total involvement of the schools and the community.

There are three keys: leadership, leadership and leadership.

The Bloomberg era leadership programs have had mixed results. An NYU study a few years ago showed no significant differences among Leadership Academy and traditional program principals. Anecdotally teachers report young Leadership graduates do not exhibit leadership qualities. To claim, as some reformers claim that experience does not matter is deeply flawed. Learning is lifelong, experience matters.

Schools blocks apart: one school chaotic, fights, suspensions, and mediocre instruction, the other orderly, effective instruction, the “feeling” that kids and teachers want to succeed, and sometimes, the same stark differences in schools in the same building.

Can current principals in struggling schools become effective school leaders?

Can school staffs become reflective, collaborative teams?

We anxiously await the implementation details of the Renewal Plan.

I used to wonder why so many secondary school principals had been coaches, and so few English and History teachers.

Have you ever watched a coach work with his/her team during a practice? Have you watched a coach teach a skill?

Description, demonstration, walk through, correction, slow practice, correction, repetition, game speed practice, review, correction … a step by step teaching of a skill with frequent “checks for understanding.” Mike Schmoker, in Focus, describes the same practice in classroom instruction: frequent checks for understanding.

I watched a U-tube of a high school basketball coach, a gymnasium filled with kids, there was less than a second left, an out-of-bounds play, the coach signaled a play, the player under the basket nodded, flashed the signal – the out-of-bounds pass was a lob to the rim and one player came around a screen and tipped the pass at the buzzer for a win. In in a tense situation players performed, coaching worked, kids learned and performed.

Coaches, principals and teachers can teach kids and can instill confidence in students. The de Blasio School Renewal Plan can make a difference with the proper leadership at the school level.