A string of departures by top school officials is fueling speculation that Chancellor Joel Klein could be the next to go. But in an interview today, Klein laughed off the possibility. He said the departures — four since January — are actually evidence that his prescription for changing urban schools is catching on.
The latest official to leave is Garth Harries, the management guru who is in the middle of restructuring the city’s special education offerings. Harries announced today that he has accepted a job at the New Haven school system starting in July.
A teachers union vice president, Carmen Alvarez, said the exodus signals that even bigger changes could be brewing at the top. “Read the tea leaves,” she said in an interview today. “People don’t leave like that unless there’s another change in the air.”
Some have speculated that Klein’s departure could be part of a deal that preserves the mayor’s control of the city schools: The head of the unpopular-amongst-elected-officials schools chancellor in exchange for continued power for the mayor.
Also fueling speculation is the rise of another official inside the school system: Eric Nadelstern, who has risen to “chief schools officer” after starting as the head of an experimental effort called the autonomy zone.
Klein dismissed the speculation today. “I don’t think that deserves a comment, quite frankly,” he said in a telephone interview this afternoon. “The mayor has made clear and I have made clear I have no intention of going anywhere” He added, “As long as the mayor will continue to have me, I’ll continue to serve.”
He said that administrative turnover has actually declined since 2002, when the state legislature gave the mayor control of the schools. The fact that some officials are leaving New York City is a testament to other cities’ admiration for the efforts to improve the public schools here, he said.
Nadelstern seconded Klein’s dismissal in an interview last month. “Tea-leaf reading is a favored past-time of too many people who have too much time on their hands,” he said.
Nadelstern, who withdrew from a Nevada superintendent search in 2006, said he has no plans to move on from his current position. “I thought it would be a formidable challenge that would take me a long period of time to master,” he said about the job. “I’m approaching it in the way I’ve approached every opportunity I’ve ever had: As if it’s the last job I’ll ever have.”
The four administrators to leave are Harries; Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Marcia Lyles; Linda Wernikoff, the city’s special education czar; and Dan Weisberg, the department’s chief labor negotiator.