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City-union memo describes ‘ambassador’ principals as partners, not turnaround agents

The agreement between the city and the principals union indicates that the new “ambassador” principal role will be more collaborative and short-term than the city described earlier this week, when officials called it a tool for shaking up the leadership at struggling schools.

In its Saturday announcement of the contract agreement, the mayor’s office said the new “ambassador” principal program would send high-achieving principals to low-achieving schools with vacancies or without strong leadership. Those accomplished principals would have the option to stay at the new school after one year if they wanted to keep working to turn the school around.

“The ambassador program is for principals and assistant principals who’ve achieved a lot, who are accomplished leaders, who know how to turn around schools that are struggling, who are willing to join teams of professionals who are going to go into schools that need help the most and give us that special ability that only an experienced, wise, effective leader can bring,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday.

But the memorandum of understanding that outlines what the city and the principals union agreed to describes the ambassador appointments as one-year swaps between pairs of principals who would volunteer to take part in the program and would each be an “ambassador.” That would provide the two schools a chance to learn from one another — more similar to the Fariña’s Learning Partners Program than to a struggling-school takeover program.

Chalkbeat reported on some of those differences on Tuesday, and officials said then that the roles are more flexible than originally described.

Here’s some of the language from the memo:

Principal/Assistant Principal Ambassadors are Principals/Assistant Principals who volunteer to participate in a program and are selected to be assigned for one year (“the Ambassador Year”) to an Educational Exchange School. Education Exchange Schools are schools paired within a borough, where there has been a determination of interest and value in the sharing of best practices, initiatives and strategies through the temporary exchange of Principals or Assistant Principals. Schools will be paired together based on a variety of factors such as capacity to benefit from shared experience and exchange with another school community.

The Ambassador Year will be for one school year, e.g. September to June. During that time, the Principal/Assistant Principal Ambassador will be assigned to the Exchange School. At the conclusion of the Ambassador year, the Principal/Assistant Principal will be assigned back to their home school (i.e., the school they were assigned to prior to the Ambassador Year). Principal/Assistant Principal Ambassadors must commit to serve the full school year in the Exchange School and must commit to serve at their home school at the conclusion of their Ambassador Year for a minimum of one additional school year. The Chancellor may waive these provisions in extraordinary circumstances.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators’ executive board approved the agreement on Wednesday, according to the union’s website, and the terms will now be sent to its 6,000 members for a vote. A meeting for members to discuss the contract is scheduled for Dec. 17 at Aviation High School.