A frequent criticism of the Department of Education under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is that it is run by lawyers and businessmen instead of by educators. In fact, the number of educators reporting to Klein quietly doubled in the last few months.
A recent issue of City Limits carried a story under the headline, “Teachers Missing at the Top.” Indeed, at the end of the last school year, just one quarter of the people reporting directly to Klein — two out of eight people — had extensive experience in city classrooms.
Now, after Klein replaced one top administrator with a former principal and added a new top-level position, four out of nine top administrators have extensive experience in city classrooms. The remaining five hold positions, such as in finance and legal affairs, that are unlikely to be occupied by educators in any school district, according to a department spokesman, David Cantor.
Asked about the shift by GothamSchools, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein called the new numbers “an interesting observation.” But he said he had not changed the way he chooses his deputies.
“I hire the best people,” Klein said. “It’s always been a mix of people who bring different perspectives.”
Klein started the summer with just two educators in his inner circle: Eric Nadelstern, a former principal who is now the department’s chief schools officer, and Santiago Taveras, deputy chancellor for teaching and learning and also a former principal. In July, Klein added a cabinet-level administrator to focus on issues facing English language learners and students with special needs. His appointment, Laura Rodriguez, has worked in the city schools since 1978.
Then James Liebman, the department’s inaugural accountability czar and a lightning rod for criticism, announced that he would be returning to his position as a Columbia University law professor. To replace him, Klein appointed former principal Shael Polakow-Suransky, bringing to four the number of people with longtime classroom experience reporting directly to the chancellor.
Parent activist Leonie Haimson said she does not expect a culture change at the department.
“The policies are pretty much set in stone now and the policies were set in stone by non-educators mostly,” she said. “I’m not sure that it matters so much now. I don’t see that they’re reversing course and doing things that educators really care about.”
A union official expressed disbelief that the number of educators in leadership positions at Tweed was as high as four. The official questioned whether they were all “career educators,” saying that the term should be applied only to people who taught in public school classrooms.